Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Balak – Numbers 22:2-25:9

Do you have this challenge? When my daughter misbehaves I find myself unaccountably angry. Let’s face it, at times every child gets into mischief or is rude. Admittedly when she does so in public I feel embarrassed. But even at home, at times I get quite spun up. This week’s parsha, Balak, shows the proper course of action:

And Pinchas, the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the Kohen saw, and he arose from among the congregation, and he took his spear in his hand. (Numbers/Bamidbar 25:7)

How to Love, When You Have to Punish

This Sabbath’s parsha details how Balak, the king of Moab, attempted to have Bilaam, one of the greatest prophets of all time, curse the Children of Israel. Included is the wonderful story of the talking donkey, my wife’s favorite. The parsha ends with Pinchas spearing Prince Zimri and his Mindianite lover in public at the entrance to the Tenant of Meeting.

A simple reading of the Torah makes it appear Pinchas took unilateral action. But details recorded in the Talmud (Sanhendrin 106a) show he consulted with Moses. Pinchas reminded him there is a commandment requiring a zealot to take drastic action in the face such depravity. After all, this is not your run of the mill PDA (public display of affection)!

Pinchas confirmed his planned course of action was correct before acting. His authority was Moses, the only person ever to speak with G-d “mouth to mouth.”

Who among us can claim to be at the spiritual level of Pinchas, the first grandson of Aaron (the first High Priest), and a nephew of Moses? Who among us can claim to have as a mentor someone at Moses’s level? Surely for any of us to take such an action would be wrong. Today, when considering punitive action in G-d’s name, we would be well advised to keep in mind the conditions of Pinchas’s act.

But what about more mundane situations: a co-worker who bad-mouths you behind your back, a driver who cuts you off, or misbehavior by your child. Surely you can choose how to respond without consulting anyone else.

I dealt with the case of a co-worker in last week’s post on injustice. When a driver cuts me off I force myself to admit I have done the same, albeit almost always accidentally. Most likely this driver was no more ill intentioned.

It should be easier for me to forgive my daughter than an errant driver. After all, I cherish her. But whether out of a sense that her misbehavior is reflective of my inadequate parenting or the presumption that her defiance is meant as a personal attack (for the record I am an inadequate parent and she is rarely defiant, let alone disrespectful) I’ve learned not to discipline her in the moment. Rather, I consult with my wife. Recently, the three of us sat down and discussed what would be a reasonable punishment when she did something wrong. Her proposal, though not as harsh as what I had in mind, has turned out to be appropriate.

Aaron greatest trait was his love for every Israelite. Unremarked upon in his story is that as a descendant of Aaron, most likely Pinchas loved Zimri. All the more reason that he consulted with Moses before taking irreversible action. While reprimanding a loved one may seem to be nowhere as dire as Pinchas’s action, you don’t need a spear to wound a loved one’s heart. In that light, a few minutes consulting with someone whose knowledge and experience you respect before taking punitive action could prevent you from doing lasting damage to a relationship.

It takes twenty positive actions to offset one negative one. Affirm that from here on out you will seek counsel before issuing a rebuke. Starting now, set the tone by speaking loving, supportive words to your spouse and children daily.

How do you decide whether a punishment is just? Please comment below.


Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

© , Kevin S. Bemel, All Rights Reserved

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