Two Important Lessons
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read Parashat Pinchas. It is one of the five parashot in the whole Torah that has a name of a person as its title. The other ones are Noach, Yitro, Korach, and Balak. It is notable that last week’s parasha, Balak, was also one of these five Torah sections. Is there anything we can learn from comparing these two characters, Balak and Pinchas, who have their names as the title of two consecutive parashot? Of course we can! Let’s see how…
Balak was the king of Moab, a people that lived in the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. Pinchas was a priest during the Israelites’ Exodus journey, the grandson of Aaron and son of Eleazar, the High Priests (Exodus 6:25). As we shall see, Balak and Pinchas had different, perhaps opposite, personalities.
When Balak finds out that the Israelites are getting closer to his kingdom he panics. He is afraid of Israel’s military power and how numerous it is. However, he does not lead a plan to fight against the Israelites, nor does he lead any action in preparation for the Israelite’s arrival. Instead, he hires someone else to do the job for him (the prophet/wizard Balaam).
When Pinchas witnesses the immorality with which the Moabites and Midianites had successfully tempted the Israelites (Numbers 25:1-9), he personally executes an Israelite man and a Midianite woman while they were together in the man’s tent. Through this act, Pinchas brings to an end the plague sent by God to punish the Israelites. Pinchas’ zeal is not seen with good eyes by some sages, while some others explain that his extreme action was justified only because of the critical situation that was going on in front of him. In any case, we can see in Pinchas a man who is ready to take on responsibilities. When he sees that people’s lives are in danger, he immediately jumps in without waiting for someone else to act.
Balak is the epitome of the person who prefers others to take care of his job. He is too afraid, or he just doesn’t care. Pinchas, instead, is the epitome of the person who is ready to take the bull by the horns as soon as he feels he is called .
We read in the Torah that Balak’s plan of having Balaam cursing Israel went bad, while Pinchas’ action made God reconsider his punishment of Israel. From these two facts we can learn two important lessons:
1. Do not leave for tomorrow what you can do today.
2. When you must act, do not expect others to do it for you.
May we live according to these simple rules!