Extract of an article in Issue 7, July 21, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. The Torah portion Balak, Numbers 22:2-25:9, is read on Shabbat, July 12 Every now and again I am haunted by the memory of a photograph, the most frightening one I know. In it a man prepares to attack another with a flagstaff held like a spear; the victim is being held upright from behind. What is especially terrifying is not just the rage in the assailant's face or even the terror of the victim, an African-American who had stumbled into a protest against racial integration. It is the fact that the picture was taken in 1976 just outside of Boston City Hall. The man trying to run his fellow through was about my age, and lived in the next town over from mine. The picture frightens me because it is not a picture of "them"; it is a picture of "us." Being an American - even a young, urban, northern American wearing a suit and tie - is no guarantee against being a vicious barbarian. Beyond its shock value the photo is also visually striking: The attacker's body is tensed like a spring fully wound, he holds the weapon almost perfectly horizontally, his eyes are focused on his target. It is the most powerful image I know of a man with a spear, and I cannot help but think of it when I read about Pinhas (Phineas), the priest who impaled an Israelite man and a Midianite woman he was consorting with through their bellies with a spear (Numbers 25:1-8). Of course it is not fair to compare the two. Pinhas was a pious man acting out of the most righteous of motives, not some hot-headed racist. The sudden violence is shocking, to be sure, but it's clear that the Bible as well as the overwhelming majority of rabbinic commentators see Pinhas as a hero. He was, after all, doing God's work. Contributing editor Rabbi Joshua Gutoff teaches and studies in New York. Extract of an article in Issue 7, July 21, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.