A problematic parasha.

The story of Pinchas confused me forty and fifty years ago, and it continues to make me feel uncomfortable today. In the Biblical text Pinchas is portrayed as a hero, though in a not too different light he can easily be seen simply as a murderer. His zealotry can perhaps be connected to his youth since we tend to more readily accept youthful zealots, hoping that as they mature they'll outgrow the feeling that when trying to right wrongs any and all actions are legitimate. A zealot who has grown older but maintained his or her zealousness simply becomes a fanatic. A claim such as "Extremism in the name of liberty is no vice" may sound nice, but it's worth remembering that it was voiced by Barry Goldwater's speech writer. Probably more often than not "extremism" is simply a euphemism for "fanaticism". When zealotry translates into murder it becomes a problem that we have to deal with rather than just explain away.

I'll readily admit that I'm stretching things when I ask whether the internet's youthful claims that it can change the world, can right wrongs, or can even bring world peace, is a form of zealotry. Seeing these simply as "youthful fervor" would probably be sufficient. Making claims of this sort is clearly not the same as killing someone in a rage, and certainly not in a divinely justified rage. Bar mitzvah celebrations, however, include an examination of their parasha, and sometimes in order to conduct that examination it's necessary to exaggerate at least a bit.

Go to: The belated Bar Mitzvah Boidem.