“How can God award a violent, impulsive murderer with eternal access to Himself?” is exactly the wrong question to ask at the beginning of Parshat Pinchas. וְהָיְתָה לּוֹ וּלְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר קִנֵּא לֵאלֹהָיו וַיְכַפֵּר עַל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, “And for him and his descendants shall be the eternal covenant of priesthood because he was passionate to his God and he atoned for all Israel.”

Is violence condoned and rewarded? Do we learn that only one who knows violence can truly understand peace? הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת־בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם (Hineni, notan lo et briti shalom), “…herewith I give to him My covenant of peace.” Do violent people such as Pinchas require the strongest, deepest connection to God in order to overcome their innate evil? We have no better answer to this question than we do to why are the ashes of a Para Aduma, Red Heifer, a rare and unnatural occurrence, when mixed into fresh spring water, the only complete remedy for the most severe ritual impurity (not to mention why does contact with a dead human body create this spiritual flaw).

In the case of Para Aduma, we’re taught there is no logical explanation. Indeed, it is the paradigm of חוק (khok), which is the root of the word חקק (khakak), to engrave. In other words, it’s etched (hard-wired) in the very nature of existence, regardless of our ability to understand. More mystically stated, it’s an example of רצון ה׳ (Ratzon HaShem), Divine Will. There simply is no profit to question why.

However, accepting that something is Divine Will doesn’t mean passively conforming with no higher involvement than mere obedience. Rather, we’re commanded to study Torah, even to the point that (וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם (פאה א:א (v’Talmud Torah k’neged kulam), “Torah study is equivalent to all of them” (i.e. all of the mitzvot combined) (Mishna Pe’ah, 1:1). If we aspire to more than rote memorization, and our tradition clearly states that this is never adequate (הָעוֹשֶׂה תְפִלָּתוֹ קֶבַע, אֵין תְּפִלָּתוֹ תַּחֲנוּנִים (ברכות 4:4  (Ha-oseh tefilato keva, ayn tefilato tachanunim) (Mishna Berachot 4:4), “…as for one who prays by rote, his prayer is insincere…”) and if it’s worthless to ask why did God create the world the way he did, what are we supposed to learn when we study Torah?

The questions to ask are no longer “why”s, but rather “what”s. Given the fact that this is Divine Will, that God created the universe the way He chose, what can we learn from that reality in order to better live our lives? What can we learn from the fact that in our OralTorah a unanimous answer/”opinion” is rare indeed?

Definitively, it doesn’t imply that God’s Will is whatever we want it to be. No, God’s will is eternal and not conditional. Rather, exploring the question in each case, in every story and every halacha of the Written Torah presents us with multiple lessons, many of which admittedly are paradoxical. We don’t have a voice in choosing God’s Will for Him. However, we do have a choice to either blindly obey/rebel or to mine as many lessons, ethical, logical, psychological, epistemological, analytical, integral, mystical as our uniqueneshamot, souls/hearts-and-minds are capable.

(rabbizeitlin.wordpress.com)


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