“Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal.” — Numbers 25:11
The Torah portion for this week is Pinchas, which means “Phinehas,” from Numbers 25:10–30:1, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 18:46–19:21.
Question for you: How is it that Israel – a tiny nation only 69 years old, surrounded by enemies intent on destroying her, with no natural resources – consistently produces more start-up companies and successful ventures than the larger and more stable nations of the world? While we attribute this miraculous success to the Lord and His promises, other reasons are suggested as well.
The bestseller “Start-Up Nation” addresses this question and provides suggestions for why this is true. One of the book’s major themes is that Israel promotes a culture which flattens hierarchy and encourages informality. This open atmosphere allows for innovation by encouraging the young and unknown to shine.
The spirit that moves Israel’s economy today has its roots in this week’s Torah portion called Pinchas, named for the lead character in the main story. Better known in the Christian Bible as Phinehas, this man was Aaron’s grandson and a young man when he made his mark. But first some background.
When the Moabites realized that they could neither conquer Israel physically nor curse them through the sorcerer Balaam, they resorted to attacking Israel on the spiritual front. The Moabites reasoned that if they could entice the Israelites to sin, then God would destroy them Himself.
The plan went into action. The most beautiful women were selected to seduce the Israelite men. The immorality reached an all-time low when Zimri, a prince of Israel, took one of the women into his tent — right in front of Moses and all of Israel. While Moses, Aaron, and the elders were contemplating what to do, Phinehas alone took action. He put both the Israelite prince and the Midianite woman to death, which not only ended the Israelite immorality, but it also ended a plague that had already claimed 24,000 lives as God’s punishment.
The Jewish sages point out that when Phinehas is first introduced to us, he is called “Phinehas son of Eleazar,” in order to stress that he was the grandson of Aaron who was Eleazar’s father. Even though Phinehas was young and unknown, neither a prince nor a prophet, he did what he was called to do when God called him.
What an empowering message for us! When it comes to doing God’s will, it doesn’t matter how old we are, or how well-known or well-respected, or how accomplished. Speak out and do good even if those “above” you disapprove.
Only God is truly above us and it is only His approval that we need. It is in this spirit that we are able to build successful nations and a more perfect world.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President