JUDAISM'S ATTITUDE TOWARDS ANGER, REVENGE AND COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT
Every trait, without exception, has the potential to cause either a
sanctification of God's Name or a desecration of God's Name depending upon the
circumstances in which, and the motivation with which, it is exercised. So it
is with the trait of Revenge. That Revenge can be a holy trait is clear. As the
Hebrew Bible declares: "HaShem is a Zealous and Vengeful God; HaShem is
Vengeful and full of Wrath; HaShem is Vengeful to His adversaries and reserves
Hostility for His enemies. HaShem is slow to Anger, but He has great Power and
He will not absolve [Evil]." (Nahum 1:2-3); and: "The righteous man
shall rejoice when he sees Vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of
the Wicked. And Mankind shall say, 'Truly there is a reward for the Righteous.
Truly there is a God Who judges on Earth.'" (Psalms 58:11-12).
Furthermore, as is demonstrated with respect to the foreordained Egyptian
Exile, although Exodus-era Egypt is merely fulfilling a role assigned to
it by the God of Israel (see Gen. 15:13-16), the Creator of Morality
purposefully stiffens the resolve of Egypt's evil Pharaoh only so that
He may exercise a horrific Vengeance against that nation as punishment for its
enslavement of the Jewish people. As the Torah relates: "HaShem said to
Moses, 'When you go to return to Egypt, see all the Wonders that I have put in
your hand, and perform them before Pharaoh; but I shall strengthen his heart
and he will not send out the people. You shall say to Pharaoh, "So said
HaShem, 'My Firstborn Son is Israel. So I say to you: Send out My Son that he
may serve Me, but you have refused to send him out; behold! -- I shall kill
your firstborn son.'"'" (Ex. 4:21-23). Moreover, God commands that
That being said, the issue is always one of proper discernment. A Jewish leader must be able distinguish between those situations which require mercy and forgiveness and those which require harshness and vengeance. This is no easy task as can be seen from the vantage point of one of the most perplexing incidents in the Torah, namely, the massacre at the City of Shechem (see Gen. 34:1-31). On the surface, Scripture appears to adopt a neutral, or at least ambiguous, attitude towards this incident, with Jacob stridently condemning it, and Simeon and Levi just as stridently defending it, after which the text abruptly jumps to another subject. But a closer examination reveals that such is not actually the case.
To summarize: Shechem, son of King Chamor and Prince of the City of
A closer examination is in order. The Torah relates that: "Jacob's
sons arrived from the field when they heard; the men were distressed and were
fired deeply with indignation, for he [Prince Shechem] had perpetrated an outrage
in Israel by lying with a daughter of Jacob -- such a thing may not
be done!" (Gen. 34:7). It is noteworthy that the Torah here employs the
phrase "outrage in Israel" while the verse otherwise refers to
"Jacob". As is known, God had earlier changed Jacob's name to
"Israel" after Jacob's confrontation with an Angel on the east bank
of the Jordan River. As the Torah relates: "He [the Angel] said, 'No
longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you have
striven with the Divine and with Man and have overcome.'" (Gen. 32:29).
After the massacre, God reaffirmed this transformation: "Then God said to
him, 'Your name is Jacob. Your name shall not always be called Jacob, but
Upon learning of the massacre, Jacob stridently rebuked Simeon and
Levi.† As the Torah relates: "Jacob
said to Simeon and Levi, 'You have gotten me into trouble, and you have caused
me to be repulsive to the Canaanites and Perrizites who live in the Land. I am
few in number, and should they band together and attack me, I will be
annihilated -- I and my household.'" (Gen. 34:30). Please note carefully
Jacob's exact words; he does not question the morality of his sons'
actions, but only its practical consequences, namely, the fact that it
might cause the surrounding nations to retaliate against him and his family.
The censure of his sons was due to his mistaken belief that the doctrine of
Pikuach Nefesh (avoidance of danger to life) excused the nation of
Shortly thereafter we learn that: "They [Jacob and his family] set out, and there fell a Godly Terror on the surrounding cities, so that they [the inhabitants of the surrounding cities] did not pursue Jacob's sons." (Gen. 35:5). By extending His Divine Protection to Jacob's sons, God Himself had the Last Word -- the brothers' attack on the Shechemites was thereby justified and sanctified (notwithstanding the fact that -- as will be later demonstrated -- the brothers' motivation was impure). But this is not the only evidence of Divine Ratification of the brothers' actions; for, generations later, the tribe of Simeon was permitted to proudly display a picture of the City of Shechem on its tribal flag (see Num. 2:2; Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7), something that God would never have permitted if the incident was a badge of shame rather than a badge of honor, and the tribe of Levi became, inter alia, the tribe which produced Moses, the tribe which was appointed as protector of the Ark of the Covenant and the tribe which became the source, through Aaron, of the priestly line.
All of this, however, does not explain why the entire adult male population of the City of Shechem -- rather than only Prince Shechem (and, perhaps, his father, King Chamor) -- was deserving of death. Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides, b. 1135 - d. 1204), in viewing the City of Shechem as a collection of individual citizens with individual responsibilities, opines that: "All the residents of [the City of] Shechem incurred a death sentence because [Prince] Shechem stole, and they saw and knew, yet did not put him on trial" (Hilchot Melachim 9:14), while Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, also known as Nachmanides, b. 1194 - d. 1270), in viewing the City as a single social unit with a collective responsibility, opines that: "They [Simeon and Levi] killed the king and all the people of his City because the latter were his servants and under his charge." (Ramban on Gen. 34:13). Both views represent the Torah concept of Collective Punishment -- that is, the idea that ordinary people justly suffer the Divine Consequences of their leadership's conduct.
This concept of Collective Punishment will again be demonstrated in the
Torah when God imposes upon Pharaonic Egypt ten awful plagues, including the
final one which strikes down all of the firstborn of Egypt "...from the
firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who
was in the dungeon..." (Ex. 12:29). Why were the imprisoned of
However, doesn't the earlier confrontation that Jacob's grandfather,
Abraham, had initiated with God over the impending destruction of Sodom and
Gomorrah prove just the opposite, namely, that Collective Punishment is
immoral? When God informed Abraham (who habitually exhibited mercy and kindness
towards kin and stranger alike) that He intended to destroy the Cities of the
Jordan River plain, Abraham sternly admonished Him: "'Will You also stamp
out the Righteous along with the Wicked? What if there should be fifty righteous
people in the midst of the city? Would You still stamp it out rather than spare
the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people within it? It would be
Sacrilege to You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the Righteous along
with the Wicked; so the Righteous will be like the Wicked. It would be
Sacrilege to You! Shall the Judge of all the Earth not do Justice?'" (Gen.
18:23-25). Abraham argued that Collective Punishment was immoral because it had
the effect of treating the Righteous as if they were Wicked, thereby causing
the gentile nations to perceive that God, Master of Justice, was indifferent to
the plight of the Righteous.† Indeed,
Abrahamís moral argument that the Righteous should not be punished for the Sins
of the Wicked would seem not to be susceptible to refutation. Yet, merciful
Abraham was unable to limit himself to a moral request that was consistent with
his moral argument that it would be unjust to punish the Righteous, namely, a
moral request that God spare only the Righteous (presumably by extracting them
from the doomed Cities prior to His Destruction thereof) and thereby punish
only the Wicked. Instead, Abraham utilized his moral argument that it would be
unjust to punish the Righteous as a springboard to make a very different -- and
immoral -- request, namely, a request that God spare the Wicked as well as the
Righteous.† Abraham thereby committed the
Sin of False Moral Equivalency (namely, the Sin of treating the Wicked as if
they merited the same Beneficence as the Righteous).† Moreover, he also acted hypocritically
towards God; for, he accused God of planning to do the very thing that he
himself now sought to accomplish, namely, securing the same Fate for the Wicked
and the Righteous.† Specifically, at the
very same time that Abraham criticized God for planning to treat the Righteous
as if they were Wicked, he demanded that God treat the Wicked as if they were
Righteous. And, remarkably, God appeared to immediately concede the validity of
Abraham's Moral Equivalency argument, by responding: "'If I find in Sodom
fifty righteous people in the midst of the city, then I would spare the entire
place on their account.'" (Gen. 18:26). But, again, a closer look is in
order. Although God eventually agrees that, even for the sake of a mere ten
righteous citizens interspersed among the wicked population of these cities, He
will spare the two cities, this major concession does not have any effect
whatsoever upon God's original Intentions -- the cities are still utterly
destroyed. How can this be? Could not even ten righteous residents be found
within all of
That, in order to avoid death and destruction, righteous persons are
required to separate themselves from the evil societies in which they
dwell is proven by reference to the plight of the Kenites during King Saulís
war of annihilation against the Amalekites.†
As the Hebrew Bible relates: "Saul came to the City of
God's exemption of unrighteous Lot, a resident of
Notwithstanding the foregoing, none of this discussion is intended to either minimize the fact that Dina was the direct victim of Prince Shechem's crimes or to suggest that a Chillul HaShem results only when an Evildoer harms a Jew for nationalistic reasons. On the contrary, every time that an Evildoer harms an innocent person (whether Jew or Gentile) -- whatever the motivation or lack thereof -- a Chillul HaShem is created; for, ordinary Evil and nationalistic Evil both result in a desecration of God's Name. However, if Dina had not been a representative of the nascent Jewish people, then an ordinary -- rather than a national -- Chillul HaShem would have resulted, for which atonement could have been obtained by punishing only the perpetrator. Yet, even in such circumstances, if such ordinary Evil were to be so tolerated as to become endemic to Society, as was the case with ancient Sodom, then even the ordinary Chillul HaShem which is created cannot be undone by punishing only the perpetrator -- for, in such a case, all of the members of Society constitute co-perpetrators.
Our biblical ancestors certainly acknowledged the reality, and feared the consequences, of Divine Collective Punishment. For, when they mistakenly believed that the leadership of those of their number who had been granted lands on the east side of the Jordan River (namely, the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad, and half of the tribe of Menasseh ) had erected an idolatrous altar, they were determined to wage war against their kinsmen in order to avoid God's Wrath against all of the people of Israel. Accordingly, as a prelude to the military confrontation, a diplomatic delegation representing the leadership of the remainder of the tribes confronted their brethren. As the Hebrew Bible relates: "They [the diplomatic delegation] came to the Children of Reuben, the Children of Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them, saying, 'Thus said the entire assembly of HaShem: "What is this treachery that you have committed against the God of Israel -- to turn away from HaShem this Day, by building for yourselves an altar for your rebellion this Day against HaShem? Is the Sin of Peor not enough for us -- from which we have not become cleansed until this Day, and which resulted in the Plague in the Assembly of HaShem? Yet, Today, you would turn away from Hashem? If you rebel against HaShem Today, [then] Tomorrow He will be angry with the entire Assembly of Israel!"'" (Joshua 22:15-18).
Moreover, even the evildoing of a single person was sometimes enough to justify the imposition of Divine Collective Punishment against the entire people. As the Hebrew Bible relates, concerning the consecrated valuables of the destroyed City of Jericho: ďThe Children of Israel trespassed against the consecrated property because Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took [some] of the consecrated property; and the Wrath of God flared against the Children of Israel.Ē (Joshua 7:1).
Yet, the Torah also declares: "Fathers shall not be put to death because of sons, and sons shall not be put to death because of fathers; a man should be put to death for his own Sin." (Deut. 24:16)?†† Isnít this Statement a repudiation of the doctrine of Collective Punishment?† No; it is, instead, a repudiation of the precept then common among the gentile nations that an innocent person may be justifiably punished for the individual Sin of his family member.† This situation is very different from the situation in which the leadership and supportive population of a nation have perpetuated such collective Evil that the entire nation, including those generations too young to have participated in such Evil, becomes collectively liable for punishment.† With respect to such a situation, the Torah declares that the God of Israel will visit "Ö the iniquity of fathers upon children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Me" (Ex. 20:5).†
But, in light of the Hebrew Bibleís endorsement of Collective Punishment, how should we interpret Jacob's famous deathbed declaration to his sons in the Land of Egypt, during which he says of Simeon and Levi: "'Simeon and Levi are brothers. Instruments of crime are their wares ... for they have killed men with anger, maimed bulls with will. Cursed be their anger for it is fierce, and [cursed be] their fury for it is cruel.'" (Gen. 49:5-7). Isn't this a condemnation of the massacre at the City of Shechem? Again, Jacob's words must be analyzed carefully.† For, he is condemning neither the brothers nor their attack on the City of Shechem in his deathbed declaration.† Rather, the subject of his condemnation is the brothers' uncontrollable personal anger, which had almost resulted in the death of their younger brother Joseph, and which had caused Jacob so many years of anguish on account thereof.† In fact, proof that Jacob did not intend to condemn the massacre in his last moments of life is revealed by what Jacob privately said to his favorite son Joseph just before publicly uttering his deathbed declaration:† "And I have given unto you [the City of] Shechem, one [possession] above your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow." (Gen. 48:22).† Clearly, Jacob would never have claimed for himself the conquest of the City of Shechem had he viewed the method by which that conquest was achieved as Evil.† Moreover, Jacob would never have gifted that City to any of his sons -- let alone to his favorite son -- had he viewed the conquest thereof as illegitimate.† Jacobís descendants obviously concurred with this analysis, because, upon their return to the Land of Israel under the leadership of Joshua, the Hebrew tribes reburied the bones of Joseph in that very City (see Josh. 24:32).†† All of the foregoing adds substantial weight to the Talmudic statement: "He [Jacob] cursed only their [the brothersí] rage." (Bamidbar Rabbah 99:6).
Unfortunately, the same type of anger that caused Simeon and Levi to attack the City of Shechem -- a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God's Name) -- later caused them to plan the murder of Joseph -- a Chillul Hashem (desecration of God's Name). Joseph was the recipient of special affection from Jacob and received prophetic dreams of dominion over his brothers which he tactlessly shared with his family, all of which caused him to be hated by his brothers (see Gen. 37:3-11). As stated in the Torah: "They [the brothers] saw him [Joseph] from afar; and when he had not yet approached them, they conspired against him to kill him. And they said to one another, 'Look! That dreamer is coming! So, now come and let us kill him'..." (Gen. 37:18-19). (According to Lekach Tov on Gen. 49:23 and Tanchuma Yashan, VaYeshev 13, these conspirators were Simeon and Levi). Simeon's and Levi's hatred of Joseph was induced by personal anger and jealousy that knew no bounds. Our Sages condemn personal anger as a form of avodah zara (idolatry and other deviant worship), as it is said: "Whoever becomes angry falls prey to all sorts of hellish forces ... Even the Divine Presence becomes unimportant to him." (Nedarim 22a-22b). The brothers' attack on the City of Shechem, while justified (because the City was deserving of Collective Punishment), nevertheless stemmed from the brothers' personal anger and their desire for personal revenge.† Precisely because they acted out of personal motives with respect to the City of Shechem, they were later wholly unable to control their Yetzer HaRah (Evil Inclination), expressed as anger and jealousy, with respect to their brother Joseph, who was certainly entitled to mercy and forgiveness (unlike the evil Shechemites).
Although most people cannot help but exhibit personal anger from time to time, when a leader of the Jewish people falls prey to this primal instinct in his dealings with the Jewish people he creates a Chillul HaShem. This can be discerned, inter alia, from a comparison between the responses of two Jewish leaders -- Moses and Phineas -- to two separate incidences of Idolatry among the Jewish people, the first caused by Moses' extended absence from the Jewish people and the second caused by the sexual allure of the women of Midian.
When God informed Moses -- then atop Mount Sinai to receive the Tablets of the Ten Commandments -- that, in his absence, the Jewish people had created, out of molten gold, a calf to worship, thereby incurring a Decree of Annihilation, Moses eloquently and successfully assuaged God's Anger against the Jewish people. As the Torah then relates: "HaShem relented regarding the Evil that He declared He would do to His People." (Ex. 32:14). However, despite the fact that "Ö the Tablets were God's Handiwork, and the Script was God's Script engraved upon the Tablets" (Ex. 32:16), and despite the fact that God -- even in the face of the Jewish people's grievous Sin -- had nonetheless decided that Moses should still present to the people His holy Tablets, when Moses actually saw the calf and the revelry in the Jewish camp, then "... Moses' anger flared up ..." (Ex. 32:19), and he smashed God's Tablets. This was clearly personal anger rather than anger solely for God's Sake. What is the basis for this harsh opinion?† Firstly, on account of Moses' intervention, God had already abated His Anger towards the Jewish people. Secondly, God had already affirmed His Decision to give His Tablets to the Jewish people despite their Sin. Thirdly, after Moses smashed the Tablets: "HaShem said to Moses, 'Carve for yourself two stone Tablets like the first ones, and I shall inscribe on the Tablets the Words that were on the first Tablets, which you shattered" (Ex. 34:1), thereby demonstrating that God had neither authorized nor ratified Moses' prior act of destruction (see Ex. 32:7-20 and Ex. 34:1-4).† Moreover, due to the fact that the original Tablets were "Godís Handiwork", God decreed that Moses himself carve the replacement Tablets in order to afford him an appropriate amount of time to reflect upon the enormity of his Sin in having permitted his personal anger to direct his conduct, in the process causing him to substitute his judgment for Godís Judgment.
In the face of the Sin of the golden calf, why did God choose to reward the Jewish people with the Gift of the Tablets of the Ten Commandments? The answer is that this was no reward!† Rather, this Gift was an initial and immediate antidote to that very Sin.† Due to the extended absence of Moses, who was the flesh-and-blood representative of Incorporeal God, the Jewish people mistakenly believed that they needed -- and, in consequence thereof, they demanded the creation by Aaron of that which they believed to be -- a substitute manifestation of God's Presence in tangible form (see Ex. 32:1). This was the golden calf!† As the Torah relates: "And Aaron saw and built an altar before it [the golden calf]; and Aaron called out and said, 'A festival for HaShem tomorrow!'" (Ex. 32:5). Yet, this misguided attempt to honor God via a replacement representative was a violation of the Second Commandment which prohibited the creation of such idolatrous objects (see Ex. 20:4). So, in order to provide His People with an appropriate manifestation of His Presence, God created the Tablets of the Ten Commandments. What is the basis for the foregoing assertion that God created (and then replaced) the Tablets in order to serve this manifestational purpose rather than merely as a convenient medium for the transmittal of the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people?† The answer is that Godís customary and preferred medium for transmitting His Laws to the Jewish people was via Oral Declaration, as evidenced by the fact the Ten Commandments are but a fraction of the Laws -- all of them Divine Edicts requiring equal fealty -- which God provided to the Jewish people; and all of these other Laws were transmitted to the Jewish people via Oral Declaration.†† In His Wisdom, God -- by creating the Tablets as the Sin was being committed -- sought to prevent the Jewish people from again falling into the Sin of Idolatry by removing any future need therefor. Yet, in his personal anger, Moses sought to substitute his judgment for that of His Master. In his rashness, Moses sought to prevent the Jewish people from again falling into the Sin of Idolatry by denying to them, as a punishment, God's holy Tablets -- these being the very antidote which God Himself had designed to accomplish that same purpose. That is precisely the reason why God informed Moses that the smashed Tablets were to be recreated in every detail. In this way, God's original Will was effectuated despite Moses' ill-considered attempt to deviate therefrom.
That Moses, especially when angered by the people, was inclined to substitute his judgment for Godís Judgment cannot be denied, as the Torah itself implicitly reveals this inclination during the incident in which the Jewish people complained about the unavailability of specified Egyptian food staples (primarily meat) and disparaged the nourishing Manna provided to them by God.† As the Torah subsequently relates: ďMoses heard the people weeping in their family groups, each one at the entrance of his tent, and the Wrath of HaShem flared greatly; and in the eyes of Moses it [the weeping of the people] was Evil.Ē (Num 11:10).† Why, in this case, does the Torah bother to disclose both Godís Judgment and Mosesí judgment concerning the peopleís complaints?† The Torah is teaching to us that Moses was always inclined to exercise independent judgment, which, in this case, was the same as Godís Judgment, thereby implying that, in other cases, such judgment might diverge from Godís Judgment.† Related to this very inclination was Mosesí own complaint to God that His Decision to make Moses the leader of the Jewish people had imposed upon Moses an open-ended punishment that ought to be alleviated by the immediate substitution of a terminal punishment.† As the Torah relates: ďAnd Moses said to HaShem, ĎWhy have you done Evil to Your Servant; and why have I not found favor in your Eyes, that you put the burden of this entire people upon me?† Did I conceive this entire people; [or] did I give birth to it? -- that You instruct me: ďCarry it in your bosom, as a nurse carries an infantĒ, to the Land that You swore to its forefathers. Where will I get meat to give this entire people? -- when they weep unto me, saying ďGive to us meat and we will eat.Ē† I cannot alone carry this entire people, as it is [too] heavy for me.† And if this is how you treat me, [then] please kill me now if I have found favor in Your Eyes, so that I will not [have to] see my failure [as a leader].íĒ (Num. 11:11-15).† By making this complaint, an angry Moses was ostensibly disputing, and requesting relief from, Godís Judgment that he must lead the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.† Moses was clearly doing that, but he was also doing much more.† For, he was also implicitly disputing Godís past Judgment that the Jewish people be redeemed from slavery and Godís present Judgment that the Jewish people be delivered to the Promised Land.† This view of Mosesí attitude toward certain of Godís Decisions was confirmed during the subsequent exchange between God and Moses, during which Moses seemed to question Godís Omnipotence.† As the Torah relates: ďAnd Moses said, Ď600,000 footmen are the people in whose midst I am; and yet You say that I shall give them meat, and they shall eat [such meat] for a month of days!† Can sheep and cattle be slaughtered for them and suffice for them; or, if all of the fish of the sea will be gathered for them, would it suffice for them?í And HaShem said to Moses, ĎIs the Hand of HaShem limited? -- now you will see whether or not My Word will come to pass!íĒ (Num. 11:21-23).† After having repeatedly witnessed Godís Awesome Power, is it possible that Moses actually doubted Godís Ability to provide the entire people with meat for an extended period of time?† No!† Rather, an angry Moses was implicitly expressing his frustration and disagreement with Godís ostensible Decision to comply with the peopleís outrageous demand for luxury food.
Much later, as Godís Response to the Jewish people's strident complaints to Moses concerning their thirst and -- yet again -- concerning their distress at being forced to come "... to this wilderness to die there ..." (Num. 20:4) instead of having been permitted to remain in the Land of Egypt, God instructed Moses: "'Take the staff and gather together the assembly, you and Aaron your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes that it shall give its waters; and you shall bring forth water from the rock, and give drink to the assembly and to their animals.'" (Num. 20:8). Yet, in a fit of personal anger at the Jewish people's repeated demonstrations of lack of faith in God's Power and Promises, Moses improperly substituted his own response for that of God. As the Torah relates: "Moses took the staff from before HaShem, as He had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation before the face of the rock, and he [Moses] said to them [the Jewish people], 'Listen now, O rebels, shall we bring forth the water for you from this rock?' Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock with his staff twice; and abundant water came forth, and the assembly and their animals drank. HaShem said to Moses and to Aaron, 'Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel; therefore you will not bring this congregation to the Land that I have given to them.'" (Num. 20:9-12). What is meant by God's Declaration that Moses did not "believe" in Him? For, clearly, not only did Moses believe in God, but he uniquely experienced God ďface to FaceĒ (Deut. 34:10)!† The meaning is that Moses did not "believe" that certain of God's Decisions were appropriate responses to the Jewish people's serial transgressions, and that, consequently, Moses was not able to subordinate his human emotions to God's measured Determinations. In other words, as in the earlier crisis over the golden calf and the original Tablets of the Ten Commandments, Moses -- leader of the Jewish people and, as well, God's Emissary to them -- being unable to control his personal anger, thereby converted that which was supposed to be a Kiddush HaShem into a Chillul HaShem. That is precisely the reason why the Torah then continues: "They are the Waters of Strife, where the Children of Israel contended with HaShem, and He was sanctified through them [Moses and Aaron]." (Num. 20:13). In order to reconvert Chillul HaShem into Kiddush HaShem, God found it necessary to publicly punish His righteous Servants Moses and Aaron for their respective transgressions (of which this incident constituted the last); and He was, consequently, sanctified through them. This is similar to the earlier incident in which God sanctified His Name by publicly taking of the lives of Aaron's two sons -- Nadab and Abihu -- who, in their religious exuberance, had brought before Him their fire pans with an unsanctioned alien fire. As the Torah relates: "Moses said to Aaron, 'Of this did HaShem speak, saying, "I will be sanctified through those who are nearest to Me, [thus] I will be honored before the entire people"'; and Aaron was silent." (Lev. 10:3).
That the power of personal anger could induce Moses to substitute his own judgment for Godís Judgment should not be surprising.† For, the seductive desire to substitute oneís own judgment for Godís Judgment lies at the root of the very first Sin.† As the Torah relates: ďAnd HaShem God commanded the Man [Adam], saying, ĎOf every tree of the Garden you may freely eat.† But of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, you must not eat from it; for, on the Day that you eat from it, you shall surely die.íĒ (Gen. 2:16-17).† God was warning Adam that human beings were barred from seeking to ďĎÖ be like God, knowing Good and Evil.íĒ (Gen. 3:5) -- meaning that a human being, including Godís Anointed One, the future Messiah, must never believe that he has the Transcendent Ability to declare that which is Good and that which is Evil.† From the Dawn of Creation, that Holy Prerogative has been reserved by God for Himself, and for Himself alone.† To reiterate: As the Prophet Isaiah, speaking in God's Name, declares concerning God's Morality: "For, My Thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My Ways -- the Word of HaShem. As high as the Heavens are above the Earth, so are My Ways high above your ways, and My Thoughts [high] above your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9). Consequently, a leader of the Jewish people must never seek to substitute his own judgment for Godís Judgment.† For, on the Day that he does so, he shall surely be condemned to suffer the same Punishment as God meted out to Moses for his serial Sin.
Revenge, as a national and holy obligation, must be undertaken by a
leader of the Jewish people solely for the Sake of Godís Name and must never
be motivated by personal anger. This lesson is finally learned by
Levi's descendant (and Aaron's grandson), Phineas, who was faced with massive
Idolatry among the Jewish people induced by the sexual enticements of the women
of Midian. While the Tablets of the Ten Commandments had sufficed to prevent
Idolatry among the Jewish people motivated by the Incorporeality of God,
this antidote did not suffice to prevent Idolatry among the Jewish people
motivated by the allure of forbidden sexual activity. Phineas responded
to this crisis by ruthlessly killing Zimri, the Israelite notable, and Cozbi,
the Midianite notable, in response to their very public sexual embrace in the
sight of the entire Congregation of Israel. Thus, Phineas selflessly
undertook, on behalf of the entire nation of Israel, God's Revenge
against Zimri and Cozbi for their very public Chillul HaShem, thereby stopping
a deadly plague (that had already consumed 24,000 Israelites) and earning God's
"Covenant of Peace" for himself and God's "Covenant of Eternal
Priesthood" for himself and his offspring (see Num. 25:1-15). For, whereas
in the case of the violence by Moses against the Tablets of the Ten
Commandments, God refrained from describing His righteous Servant's
conduct as being for His Sake (-- "... the first Tablets, which you
shattered." (Ex. 34:1) --), in the case of the violence by Phineas against
his fellow Israelite and the latter's Midianite consort, God explicitly
declared that His righteous Servant's conduct was solely for His
Sake (-- "HaShem spoke to Moses, saying, 'Phineas, son of Elazar, son of
Aaron the Kohen, turned back My Wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when
he zealously avenged Me among them; so I did not consume the Children of
Israel in My Vengeance. Therefore, I say, "Behold -- I give to him My
Covenant of Peace." And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a
Covenant of Eternal Priesthood, because he took Vengeance for his God, and
he atoned for the Children of
© Mark Rosenblit