At this time three years ago, Parshat Pinchas, that my journey back to Torah and ultimately to Israel hit a major milestone.  I went to a summer outreach program which ended in the rabbi suggesting, seemingly out of nowhere, that I should then go study in Israel.  The idea stuck.

During that program, I met each evening with a study partner, and we could learn whatever the program attendee wanted to learn.  I set a pretty ambitious goal – to be able to write a dvar Torah.  We began by looking at the parshah.

And it was very difficult to figure out what it, and all the commentaries meant.  Three years later, it still is.

While I did manage to pull some things together by the end of the two-week program, textual skills take a very long time to develop.  I’m taking another crack at that by doing Nishmat’s summer program part-time during the Three Weeks.  I’m managing a student blog for them, which you can check out here.

As usual, it’s the end of the week, very close to the beginning of Shabbat, and I am simply out of time.  But it wouldn’t seem right to begin without sharing a little something.  I came across this beautiful dvar torah on chabad.org and it reminded me of a recent post of mine on Zelphead’s daughters, which I learned about in Sefer Yehoshua, but who originally appear in this week’s parshah, Pinchas.

A theme of this week’s parshah is about zealotry, which in the best definition of the word, means going after your convictions.  Returning recently back to Israel after spending a long vacation in the United States, I really needed to remind myself of my convictions for coming here.

While modern democratic society encourages us to be tolerant and to accept “to each their own,” there can and must be some things that we stand for and stand against.  This parshah challenges us to question what things we really stand for and are willing to fight for.

But the fighting need not take the form of violence as in Pinchas’s case.  One can fight against evil forces or evil values by externally attacking with force, or one can influence through internal strength and conviction.  Different times call for different methods.  But perhaps particularly in a time and place where we are allowed to all “do our own thing,” someone who is doing a difficult and perhaps even unpopular thing for a higher purpose will undoubtedly attract some attention.  The key here is to do it l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven.

Three years ago while at the same program and some of the women wore long sleeves and long skirts on a Lake George boat cruise in the middle of the day in the heat of July, I was pretty impressed by their conviction to dress according to their religious beliefs, despite the external circumstances (although to be fair it’s largely true that when one grows up doing this they are used to it and would feel comfortable doing otherwise).

As an outsider, I was influenced by this demonstration, which was not done in order to make anyone else feel inappropriate for what they were wearing but rather merely doing what they believed to be right.  It’s difficult to see how convincing someone to dress more modestly through acts of force or intimidation, as is practiced in some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, can be seen as helpful rebuke to a fellow Jew or encouragement to perform mitzvot, l’shem shamayim.

In an era with an unprecedented effort toward tolerance and diversity, we need not all blend into one homogeneous unit in order to get along.  It’s important to hold on to what makes Torah values and Jewish culture special and to preserve it with love, rather than force.


1 Response to “Zealotry”

  1. 1 Sarah July 12, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Ilene, I went back to said program this past Shabbat, and I realized just how far we’ve come. Your thoughts in this post could not be more true. I feel so blessed to be on this journey with you!

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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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