The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family. — Numbers 25:14
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Pinchas, which means “Phinehas,” from Numbers 25:10–30:1.
Several years ago, Peter Salovey, president of Yael University, began his message to the graduating class with a call to “improve the world. In the Jewish tradition this is called Tikkun Olam, literally to ‘repair the world.’” We would all like to create the perfect world…but how?
One answer can be found in a story I remember from my childhood about a famous eighteenth-century rabbi who started out wanting to perfect the world. When that didn’t work, the rabbi said he would work to perfect Lithuania. When that didn’t work either, he decided that he would just perfect the city of Radin. When that failed, the rabbi decided that he would just try to perfect himself — and by perfecting himself he then influenced Radin, the whole of Lithuania, and people worldwide even today.
The place to start in perfecting the world is within ourselves.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about a man name Zimri who had sinned by having relations with a Midianite woman in front of Moses! The couple was immediately killed, but we don’t learn his true identity as a leader from the tribe of Simeon until much later on the reading.
Jewish tradition teaches that if Zimri’s prestigious identity had been revealed as the story unfolded, it could negatively influence the reader who might conclude that if such an esteemed individual could sin in that way, sinning must not be so bad. The Torah only mentions Zimri by name after we learn that he was killed as a result of his terribly sinful behavior. At that point, no one would aspire to be like Zimri!
The story illustrates that we influence others the most by how we behave ourselves. This can work negatively, but also for the good.
There are many ways to make the world a better place. Peter Salovey continued his message to graduates: “When you start a new business that employs people and contributes something new, you improve the world. When you serve others with great distinction in one of the professions, you improve the world. When you inspire others by creating a beautiful work of art, you improve the world.”
I would add, when you act righteously, you inspire others to do the same, and then, you can quite possibly, perfect the world.
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