A great part of Jewish life means making commitments to the community.

Pinchas, the hero of this week’s portion, was singled out because “he was zealous for his God.” An Israelite prince, Zimri, had done a scandalous thing.

The encamped men were being seduced into heathen worship and corruption through associating with the women of the land. Zimri openly and flagrantly brought a Midianite woman into his tent.

Pinchas, a priest and, therefore, a man of peace, was filled with indignation, seized a spear and inflicted the punishment of death upon the offender and his partner.

Today, many of us have a different outlook on Pinchas’ actions. Rather than applaud him, we are more inclined to criticize. We feel that his violent act conflicts with today’s moral standards. I feel that we must look less at the act and more at the motivation of the man. Pinchas was filled with kinah, zeal. He boils inwardly and is filled with passion for a cause.

However, like any great force or energy, zeal can be dangerous; directing the passion and its subsequent acts must be tempered with sensibility. Our history is replete with tragic expressions of fanaticism in oppression and intolerance, resulting in destruction and desecration.

Today we are experiencing protests and marches aimed to direct our attention to the need for mindfulness of inequality in our midst. The cause is being clouded by zealots who, taking advantage of crowd situations, are digressing from the main intent and taking opportunities to loot, destroy, desecrate and commit many violent acts. These “zealots” are fanatics, as opposed to those who act with zeal to promote acts of selflessness, of commitment of the need for peaceful existence.

Our zeal should be directed toward eradicating the divisiveness of the situation. We must continue to demand justice for all citizens and remain committed to fighting the discord that leads to violent and destructive acts.

The opposite of zeal is indifference and detachment. The dangers we face today are from uncommitted hearts; we cannot, in good conscience, distance ourselves and proclaim non-involvement. We cannot remain detached when we witness the destruction of communities and clouding of issues.

We must zealously find ways to be heard and be seen to bring attention to problems that involve us all and which demand that we stay active in our commitment to unity.

In the eyes of the sages, Pinchas’ deeds were unacceptable. We must, however, consider his zeal and commitment to be of heroic proportions and worthy of emulation.

A great part of Jewish life means making commitments to the community. We dare not be detached and indifferent. We must remain zealous in our commitment to the betterment of all people in just causes.

Sy Manello is editorial assistant of the Jewish News.

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