>> Torah portion
Do You "Do Torah?"
Parshat Pinchas: Numbers 25:10-30:1;
1 Kings 18:46-19:21.
omeone recently asked me
if I "Do Torah?" In other
words, as the rabbi of the
Birmingham Temple, do I read and
worship the Torah? Well, the answer
is "Yes" and "No." And this
week's Torah portion is the
perfect way to explain.
Travel with me into the
book of Numbers. Pinchas,
grandson of Aaron, the
high priest, witnesses a
Jewish prince "consorting"
with a gentile princess. We
are told that Moses and
Aaron weep at the sight. In
a moment of rage, Pinchas
lunges forward and spears
them both, murdering
them in an act of impulsive violence.
As a result of the murder, Pinchas
is considered a hero, receives
priestly status, and we read that the
Israelites are saved in the eyes of
God who is so happy with Pinchas
that he forgives their collective sins.
Here is an excerpt:
"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying
... 'I hereby give my Covenant of
peace ... because he [Pinchas] was
zealous for his God and atoned for
children of Israel. The name of the
Israelite man who was killed, who
was slain with the Midianite woman
was Zimri, and the name of the
Midianite woman who was slain was
Cozbi ... Distress the Midianites,
and you shall smite them ...'"
Many rabbis praise Pinchas. They
cite him as the one who boldly acts
when others cower. They go further
to state that he stands against inter-
marriage and does what no one else
has the bravery to do. Just look up
Pinchas and read the Torah com-
mentary yourself. He is referred to
as a leader amongst his people, a
great warrior and a man of action
who takes a bold stand against inti-
mate relationships between Jews
I could not disagree more.
Pinchas is not a great man. He
is not a hero. And he would not be
someone whom I would look to for
spiritual guidance. Furthermore, if I
were attorney general, I would pros-
ecute him for murder.
The Torah is a precious, remark-
able clue book. It is the greatest
repository for the ancient Jewish
experience that we will ever have. It
is the single most important collec-
tion of books in Western civilization.
It is the centerpiece at the
dining room table where
we, in Western civiliza-
tion, have sat for the past
2,000 years to dialogue
about what it means to be
a human being. But, it is
also a book of violent sto-
ries that are too horrible
to pray to, let alone school
my children in.
Almost every night, I
snuggle my daughter to
sleep. I wrap her little
body in my arms, and she places her
head on my mother-heart. Against
the advice of all the good doctors
and sleep experts, she falls asleep
in my arms even now that she is 7
There is this moment when the
energy in the room shifts. I can hear
her breath deepen and lengthen as
she drifts into the land of dreams.
In that moment, I wish for her
what every mother and father have
wished for their children since the
beginning of time: Sweet dreams.
When will we as a species begin to
dream a new dream? When will we
end our wars without and within?
When will lovers be able to love even
as they are from different tribes, of
different ways and different faces?
I want real heroes — women and
men who will do anything for peace.
I revere people who throw down
the gauntlet and leave no stone
unturned in their quest for resolu-
tion. I do not admire zealots and
fundamentalists, even if they are in
So do I "Do Torah?" Well yes and
no. If what you mean by Torah is,
"The entire body of Jewish and life
learning:' then I most certainly do
Torah. If, on the other hand, "Doing
Torah" means worshipping the words
on the scroll as infallible and uphold-
ing its heroes as my heroes, then,
"No, I do not do Torah:' Do you? ❑
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July 12 • 2012