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A Time to Act

The LORD said to Moses, “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 25:10–11

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.

There is an old saying that goes, “You can’t plow a field by turning it over in your head.” In other words, there’s time for thinking things through, but there is also a time for action. If we wait until we are fully ready, we may be waiting for the rest of our lives.

This week’s Torah reading begins with the story of a person who took action when everyone else was trying to figure out what to do. That man was Phinehas, the man for whom the reading is named.

After failing to curse the children of Israel, Balaam came up with a different plan to weaken the Israelites. He arranged for beautiful Midianite women to seduce the Israelite men and trick them into committing idolatry. The plan succeeded, and God began to wipe out the people of Israel. The immorality reached an apex when Zimri, a prince of Israel, flagrantly sinned with a Midianite princess in the Israelite camp.

While everyone was deciding what to do about the situation, Phinehas acted. He went into Zimri’s tent and killed the two sinners with his spear. Immediately, God halted the plague that had already claimed 24,000 lives.

In Ecclesiastes 3, King Solomon wrote that there is a time for everything: “a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace” (vv. 7–8), and in Psalm 119, King David taught that there is also a “time to act.” Psalm 119:126 literally reads, “There is a time to act for God – they have desecrated your Torah.” This is the Jewish understanding of the verse and has been cited throughout the centuries as a reminder that there are times to think, talk, and deliberate. Yet, there is also a time to take action.

The Jewish sages teach that when Jacob was about to be buried in the Cave of Mahpela, Esau protested, claiming that he deserved the last spot in the Cave of the Patriarchs. A debate ensued, and the sons explained that they even had the deed – only it was in Egypt. As Naphtali set out to retrieve it, Chushim, a son of Dan who happened to be deaf, saw that his grandfather, Jacob, was being disgraced, so he killed Esau. He wasn’t pulled in by the debate and knew when to act.

Friends, there are things in our lives that we know we should do, but we haven’t done them yet. Maybe we are thinking about how to best do it, or if we really should do it, or we’re waiting for the right time. The time is now. Make today the day. Be like Phinehas and act for the sake of God!


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