Cooling Passions

Numbers Hizkuni: Pinchas

Cooling Passions

Five Kings of Midian Slain by Israel
Five Kings of Midian Slain by Israel

The Midianites have been responsible for the sudden, unprovoked and unconventional death of 24,000 Israelites. The Israelites are mad with a blood hunger and a need for revenge. They have the army, they have the weapons, and they have the motivation and the moral high ground.

What does God tell them to do? He says ‘you will attack’. He says ‘you will avenge your fallen brothers’. He later tells them how many to recruit and how to go about the battle. One item that often goes unnoticed in the text is that they do not attack right away. They are told about the upcoming revenge in Numbers 25:17, right after the demise of the 24,000 Israelites, but are only dispatched later in Numbers 31:2.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni, 13th Century) asks why God would command revenge right away but only orders the actual battle later on. Hizkuni explains that the timing was not right. Passions were running high amongst Israelites, but in the grander scheme of things an attack would be premature. God needed to calm down the headstrong and vengeful people.

Therefore God tells them, even promises them, ‘you will attack, you will avenge your fallen brothers’, but not just yet. Wait until the time is right, until your thinking is clearer, until you are analyzing matters with a cool head and victory will be yours.

May we remember not to act out of anger, but to harness it to rational considerations.

Shabbat Shalom



To our dear friend and neighbor Anat Karsch on her engagement to Yaron Shachar. They’ve happily directed their passion for each other to the rational institution of marriage. Mazal Tov!

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