Zimri’s Dastardly Deed

“Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in My vengeance”

(Bamidbar 25:11)

Through acting with self-sacrifice, Pinchas managed to halt the epidemic that swept through Am Yisrael. For this, he was richly rewarded. By contemplating how dire the situation was, and specifically the behavior of Zimri, we will understand how crucial the act of Pinchas was in saving the day.

Zimri brazenly appeared before Moshe Rabbeinu with a Midianite woman. He asked whether she was permissible to him. Moshe answered in the negative. Then Zimri countered, “Who allowed you to take Tzipporah from Midian as a wife?” (Sanhedrin 82a). How could he compare Tzipporah to this Midianite? Tzipporah was a kosher convert, a tzaddeket who married Moshe, completely sanctified for Hashem. In her righteousness, she saved Moshe’s life from a snake, as she grabbed the knife to circumcise her son (see Rashi, Shemot 4:24). In this manner, Tzipporah rescued Moshe Rabbeinu, the future Redeemer of our nation. In direct contrast, Kuzbi bat Tzur caused Bnei Yisrael to sin in immorality and idolatry. Where is the connection?

Furthermore, Zimri should have been plagued by the sight that met his eyes. He surely realized that the epidemic running rampant in the camp came in the wake of sinners like himself. Not only did he not take heed, he continued in his heinous acts. He was blind to those who fell at his side.

When a person falls into the clutches of sin, he is blind to all that goes on around him. He has sunk so low that all rationale has left him. An example would be a person who is so ravenously hungry that he eats without netilat yadayim. Once a person allows himself to yield to temptation, it blocks his eyes to anything else. He does not consider the transgressions involved, only his base impulses. Zimri did not put much thought into his terrible deed. He only sought ways to permit it.

How far must we keep from anything that smacks of sin! The power of aveirah is so great that it can drive a person to the depths, making him blissfully unaware that he is sinning, allowing him to sense only his urge to act as he wishes.

As Bnei Yisrael were falling prey to the plague, Zimri had the gall to approach Moshe Rabbeinu with the Midianite woman in order to justify his act. His boldness knew no bounds (see Tanchuma, Balak 20). We find similar behavior regarding Amalek, after Yetziat Mitzrayim (see Ki Teitzei 9). The pasuk (Shemot 15:14) states, “Peoples heard – they were agitated; terror gripped the dwellers of Pelashet.” The entire world trembled in fear of Hashem, after hearing about the Splitting of the Sea. As Amalek attacked Am Yisrael, most fearlessly, they cooled off our faith (Ba’al Shem Tov, Beshalach 20). The other nations were too shocked to fight against Amalek. When a person is taken aback by a sudden act, he is shocked into stillness.

Zimri, likewise, weakened the power of the Beit Din of Klal Yisrael, who were present when he made his claim. For this reason, Pinchas hurried in his act of zealousness, without waiting for the Beit Din to convene.

The parashah begins with the lineage of Pinchas (Bamidbar 25:11): “Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen”. Rashi explains that his lineage is traced back to Aharon, even though that fact was well-known, because the tribes were humiliating him, saying, ‘Did you see this son of Puti, whose mother’s father fattened calves for idolatry, yet he killed the prince of a tribe of Israel!’

At the time of Zimri’s death, Bnei Yisrael witnessed a number of miracles. Although Pinchas pierced them with his spear, the sinners remained alive. This was an overt miracle, wrought on behalf of Pinchas, the Kohen. Although Zimri was slain, he remained in the same condition as before, so that the people would realize why he was put to death. Also, Zimri’s tent was protected by 24,000 guards. Pinchas walked in alone with his spear, overpowering them all (Tanchuma, Balak 21).

The plague ceased only after Zimri died. In spite of the numerous miracles surrounding his death, Bnei Yisrael had grievances against Pinchas. They claimed he descended from an idol worshipper, for his mother was a daughter of Yitro. They demanded to know how he dared kill a prince of Israel.

How did Bnei Yisrael fail to see that the epidemic ceased as soon as Pinchas killed Zimri, thereby saving them all from annihilation? Not only did they not notice this, they had the audacity to grumble against him. Besides, Yitro had left his idols long before, in order to become a righteous convert. How dare they call him a calf-fattener?

How great is the influence of a rasha on his environment. The people saw Zimri sinning and being put to death, and were negatively influenced. They even encouraged him to sin, trying to protect his tent when he was in the heat of sin. Chazal (Sanhedrin 82b) state that he sinned more than four hundred times.

When one assists a fellow Jew in sinning, he “takes his side,” fending for him against those in opposition. This is why they saw only what they perceived as negative in Pinchas. Their support of sin obscured their vision. Hashem purposely ascribed Pinchas’ lineage to Aharon Hakohen, so that the nation would realize that they were mistaken in their assessment of him, and to impress upon them that only in his zechut did they survive the plague.

In Summary

Studying the vengeance of Pinchas against Zimri will enable us to understand just how critical it was for Am Yisrael.

How is it possible to compare the accursed Midianite woman, who caused men to sin, with Tzipporah, the tzaddeket, the righteous convert who married Moshe? Furthermore, Zimri saw the dead all around him, yet still kept on sinning.

Transgressions block one’s vision from seeing the truth. One should flee them like the plague.

As a direct result of Zimri’s dastardly deed, weakness overcame Am Yisrael, including the Beit Din. This was similar to the situation with Amalek, who cooled off the faith and fear of Bnei Yisrael as they attacked them after the Exodus from Egypt. For this reason, Pinchas acted zealously, not asking for any advice.

The blindness which envelops sinners includes those who support him. In spite of observing many miracles in the act of Pinchas, including the fact that he brought the epidemic to a halt, Bnei Yisrael mocked him, claiming his maternal grandfather had fattened calves for idolatry. They supported Zimri in sin, thereby becoming blind to the truth.


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