Is zealotry good or bad? Is it good to be so passionate and so ardent that you put your career, your reputation, your life on the line for a cause? Pinhas did that-his jumping in to kill Zimri and Cozbi when they were doing cultic worship at G-d’s altar put an end to the plague afflicting Israel. Sir Rabbi Jonathan Saks said, as I learned at Parshat HaShavua, that because Pinhas acted in the moment and during the sexual act he was validated; had he responded too soon or too late he would have been vilified.
We know that hesitation is a hideous demon and that we cannot always hold back or analyze all the possible outcomes ad nauseum. At times we need to be zealous, to fight for what we believe in. Yet if we are zealous about everything we do not have a grounded perspective and like one who is overly hesitant, we lose credibility. We become known as one who is “my way or the highway.” The goal is to be in the middle, to carefully and strategically pick and choose our battles.
As we look at the world “through freedom’s eyes”, with the freedom to choose whatever we want, let us remember this lesson of zealotry. May we remember the zealotry of Pinhas, that at sometimes we need to act in the moment rather than “wait for it” even if it means putting ourselves on the line. At other times we need to carefully analyze and choose wisely, or we end up like the Sicarii zealots who began the Great Revolt against Rome, leading to the destruction of the Second Temple and ultimately our exile from Judea. As we are in the 3 weeks between the Roman breach of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, let us remember the example of the Sicarii zealots as a time when we jumped in over our head while concurrently recognizing that at times we need to be like Pinhas, acting in the moment rather than waiting for a consensus. May we choose wisely.