If we’re supposed to be guided by our morals, what happens when one person’s (or community’s) morals conflict with another’s? We all have so much in common with each other, but these days we’re divided by extremes on every issue. If you bring up a particular topic, you risk the response of someone ready to shout it down, or, just as unhelpful, it’s met with confirmation bias, which means it will be interpreted according to other people’s preexisting beliefs, not seen as new information to consider.
Personally, my integrity comes from many places, but primarily from my Jewish traditions. The commandments of the Torah and the values of Jewish living guide me in my decision making and understanding of the world around me. This has been true of Jews living an observant life since the time of the Torah.
This week’s parshah, Pinchas, puts moral courage on display. We begin with the story of Pinchas (identified as Aaron’s grandson) and the extreme action he took against those that defied the prohibition of idolatry. Then we move to the daughters of Zelophechad (Joseph’s great-great-great-grandson), who want to inherit land after their father’s death because he had no sons. Then Joshua is appointed Moshe’s successor, and we end with the sacrifices we are to make for Rosh Chodesh and the holidays.
Chapter 25, verses 17-18 read: “Assail the Midianites and defeat them – for they assailed you by the trickery they practiced against you – because of the affair of Peor.” Why were the Midianites against the Isarelites? We’re told it’s originally because the Israelites had different ways of worship from the other nations that surrounded them. But beyond that, the Israelites didn’t engage in hostile takeovers; they did not rape and pillage or even encourage each other to engage in dishonest acts to prove superior. They stood on a moral ground that made them stand out from everyone else. Because of this, other nations tried to trick and disadvantage the Israelites and pull them away from their moral compass.
Parshat Pinchas stands as a reminder that personal moral courage isn’t automatic. It takes hard work to build it up, and it’s almost always tested by those who lack similar convictions. It’s our responsibility as Jews to use that sense of justice we’ve built up for so long.