Pinchas: Presidential Self-Control
The scandals of immoral leaders continue. How can a person rule over an entire population when he can't even rule over his own bodily urges?
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
"...Zimri ben Salu, the president of the paternal house of Simon..." (Numbers 25:14)
Hollywood could make a smash hit movie about the episode of Zimri and Cozbi bat Tzur. Don’t think this is a lone event from ancient times, for there are plenty of Zimris and Cozbis around today.
When Bilaam and Balak, despite all their curses and sorcery failed to subdue the Israelites, Bilaam gave Balak a lethal weapon of dark-side advice: “Their G-d despises debauchery.” Bilaam counseled Balak to have all the Midianite women entice the Israelite men. The wicked Bilaam knew that this would destroy them more than any weapon on earth. Every single young and attractive Midianite woman took part in this “mission”, designed to wipe out the Israelite nation, Heaven forbid. Even the daughters of the five Midianite rulers participated, including Cozbi the daughter of Tzur, one of the five Midianite kings.
Tzur told his daughter Cozbi, “Since you are the daughter of a king, you must bring down their leader. Go straight to Moses and entice him.” On the way to Moses, Cozbi was intercepted by Zimri. Meanwhile, the Simeonites were morally falling like flies at the hands of the Midianite women. Zimri saw that this young lady was fit for a king so he grabbed her.
“Let me go,” Cozbi protested. “My father said that I must go straight to Moses, for I am the daughter of King Tzur.”
Zimri ben Salu answered with his slick tongue, “Moses is the president of the Levites, descended from Levi, Jacob’s third son. I am the president of the Simonites, descended from Simon, Jacob’s second son. I am therefore higher than Moses – you shall stay with me.” With his demagogic abilities, Zimri then approached Moses with the Midianite princess in hand.
With more than a proverbial pound of insolence, Zimri challenged Moses: “This young lady – is she permissible to me or forbidden?”
Moses replied, “Of course, she’s forbidden.”
“Then who allowed you to marry Tzippora – she too is a Midianite, just like Cozbi here. In fact, whereas Cozbi is the daughter of a Midianite king, your wife is the daughter of a Midianite priest – that’s even worse!”
Moses became numb. He couldn’t react or respond to Zimri because of his personal involvement. Pinchas saw what was happening and took matters into his own hands; he terminated Zimri and his Midianite mistress with one fell swoop of a battle ax. His action saved the Israelite nation.
Let's take a closer look at Zimri's demagoguery. Sure, Tzippora was a Midianite from birth. And yes, her father Jethro was once a Midianite high priest. But, he discarded all of his idolatry to become a righteous convert together with his whole family. This was an act of great dedication for they paid the price of being totally ostracized by their neighbors.
Whereas Tzippora the daughter of Jethro was a righteous convert, clinging to the God of her husband Moses, Cozbi the daughter of King Tzur was not. Indeed, she was still deep into Midianite idolatry and bent on doing what she could to bring an Israelite president – and in turn, his whole tribe – into idolatry and immorality. She succeeded, for Zimri as well as 24,000 Simeonites lost their lives.
The Torah is teaching us a message for posterity. Zimri did not want truth; he wanted to satisfy his lust, around which he built an artificial truth. His animal urges dictated his actions. The question is, is such a person capable of being a president, of governing others? Can one govern an entire nation or an entire tribe when he can't even govern himself? How can a person rule over an entire population when he can't even rule over his own bodily urges?
In today's scandalous society, heads of state freely walk in Zimri's footsteps. Not a week goes by without some senior police commander, military officer or Member of Parliament being accused of sexual harassment or improper moral conduct.
Is this the world we want?
Hashem is showing us that in the age of legalized abominations, the world's leaders will be those who perpetuate the image and spirit of Zimri, not Moses.
Our sages say that one cannot act like Zimri and expect the rewards of Moses. One cannot have the Land of Israel, in particular, governed according to the laws of Zimri and expect to see the blessings of Moses.
Unfortunately, the scandals of immoral leaders right here in our holy homeland continue to this day. One president is still serving a prison sentence for immoral conduct. Rampant impropriety has penetrated the Knesset, the police force and the army as well. By raising the bar of our own moral conduct, we show Hashem that we deserve better leaders. May we all so merit, amen!
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.