Pinchas: Zealotry vs Extremism

Well, my No-Female Vacation is coming to an end.  On one hand, it will be good to see everybody again, and certainly good to have daughters at home who can help us, compared to their male siblings.  Yet, on the other hand … well … there will be women in the house once again, and I will have to converse with them and listen to their feelings and stories, with all the details, on what EXACTLY happened to them throughout the day (I have  no clue what my sons have been thinking or feeling for the past week and a half, and nor do they care to tell me and nor do I care to hear).

So, I guess I will welcome them with open arms … and an open kitchen and laundry room, which I will be more than happy to turn back over to them (and yes, they will come home to empty laundry baskets and a clean kitchen, I'm not THAT mean/much of a male)

I saw an interesting question poised last week on this week's parsha (here in Israel for the past several months, we've been one parsha ahead of everybody else).  In the end of last week's parsha, there was a "small" problem taking place between some Jewish men and women from Midian.  Pinchus, after seeing one of the leaders of the tribe of Shimon enter his tent with a Midianite woman, took a spear, ran in after them, and killed them immediately.  The secular papers were in panic of such a display of religious extremism and Hashem Himself decided to give Pinchus a "Covenant of Peace," which in turn forced the secular papers to condemn Hashem for His encouragement of more extremism.

There was another case of "extremism" that took place in the Torah as well.  It was when Yaakov's daughter Dina was taken by force by Shchem.  Shimon and Levi came up with a plan to not only save Dina but to exterminate those directly and indirectly responsible.  However, in this case, Yaakov became upset at them for their extremism.

So, what's the difference between Pinchus, who was rewarded, and Shimon and Levi, who were condemned?

The answer lies in Rashi (Bamidbar 25:7).  Right before he took the spear in his hand, he confirmed with Moshe that his actions would be according to halacha.  When responded in the affirmative, he immediately went into action.

That's the difference between a real Zealot and an Extremist.  A Zealot does things according to the law.  He asks before he does.  He puts his full measure into everything he does, but within the framework of the Torah.  An extremist does what he feels is correct, but without asking those who are wiser than he is, if his actions are correct or not.  Perhaps, this is why my Rosh Yeshiva took it as a compliment when people accused him of turning young men into zealots.  He wanted everybody, no matter what station they are in, to put all their energy into their growth, but only via a competent rav.

I'll try to give an example.  In our community there is an email "WhatsApp" for communal events.  My wife gets them, but I have no patience for them.  It turns out there was a woman who moved here, originally from England, who started inviting other women to her celebrations as she was finishing volumes of Gemara.  This is more than a tad weird, since the community, while on the open-minded side, still considers itself to be "Ultra-Orthodox."  My wife did not bother to show it to me, knowing that it would upset me.  However, somebody else brought it to my attention.  He was not happy himself, since this is not normative behavior for this community and he smelled a bigger agenda from this woman.  He wanted me, an English speaker, to help him do something about it.  I told him to leave it alone, since I'm sure most will ignore her and she will eventually fall silent.

I was wrong.

He came back to me a month later, after another one of her postings.  He forwarded me what she wrote and then told me to look her up, because she works with Meretz.

For those not in the know, Meretz is a far-left political party that has two main points: 1) It's pro-Arab, and 2) It's very anti-religious.  And this "frum" woman is an active member of Meretz, going around getting people to vote for them.  We're not talking about closer-to-centrist parties like Likud, Labor, or Blue/White.  We're really talking very anti-religious.  It turns out that this woman came from a liberal, non-religious background, and when she became religious, she forgot to align her internal thinking with that of the Torah.  She is a left-wing extremist who works against the Torah, yet calls herself religious. Yeah, it's weird.

In her email, she attached a link to an Open-Orthodox event that was going to take place in Yerushaliyim.  Now, unlike Israelis and many non-Israelis, I know exactly what Open-Orthodoxy is about and what makes them so dangerous.  So, at this point, I spoke to my rav on what, if anything, I should do.

Now, my rav, by any measure, cannot be labeled an extremist.  He usually takes a very laid-back approach about things.  In fact, I know that when he takes a more stringent stance on something, I need to do the same, since he usually goes lenient when possible.  However, in this case he told me, "You must take her picture and her bio from Meretz and post it up on all the shuls in the area.  She is dangerous."

I couldn't bring myself to do exactly that, since she had kids in school and it's a smaller community.  However, I did write a very direct email about who she is, who Open Orthodoxy is, and while I don't care what people do in their homes, the email list is not the appropriate place for such things to be posted.  My friend took it, wrote it in proper Hebrew, and we emailed it out to this list.

In the end, we received easily 15 emails and phone calls from people, including from the rav of the city, thanking my wife and me (it was her account) for publicizing such information.  Many women thought what she was doing was a "little weird," but some of her neighbors were either curious or felt bad saying "no" to a direct invitation, and now that they have all the information, they know to keep clear of her.

Was this extremism?  No.  I went to a rav.  I did something that I really didn't have any interest in doing, but I knew that if I didn't, who knows what spiritual damage she could have caused.  So, if you want to call it zealotry, you could, but certainly not extremism.

And that's the difference between the two.  I often joke that the only thing I do 100 percent "for Hashem's sake" is drink coffee to stay awake during learning.  I mean, it's true.  I hate coffee.  But, I guess in this case, I did something also "for Hashem's sake."  I did not take any pleasure from it, but I knew it was the right course.  Some would disagree, citing the need for "peace" and all that.  But, as we learned from Pinchus, sometimes sitting around doing nothing not only does NOT bring peace, but it brings destruction.  Sometimes it's the opposite.  Sometimes, only by waging "extremism," can one bring true peace.  But, again, extremism and zealotry are on two different sides of a very thin line and, like Pinchus, one must consult those much wiser than they are to properly know which side is which.

Have a wonderful Shabbos!