When Zealotry Metastasizes

Rabbi Shai Held

Parashat Pinhas

Few biblical stories trouble modern readers quite as much as that of Pinhas, the Torah's zealot-hero. Is there room for this kind of vigilantism in the name of God? Numbers apparently thinks that there is. Yet there is something profoundly disturbing about this evaluation, which the rabbinic tradition is uneasy with. Midrashim argue an important counterbalance: A zealot for God's honor can all too easily become a zealot for his own. (5774)