Friday, July 11, 2014
Pinchas- Trading Places
V’sheim ish Yisrael hamukeh asher hukah et-haMidyanit Zimri ben-Salu n’si veit-av laShim’oni. V’sheim ha’isha hamukah haMidyanit Kozbi vat-Tzur rosh umot beit-av b’Midyan hu.
And the name of the Israelite man who was slain with the Midianite woman was Zimri ben Salu, a prince of a father’s house [from the tribe of] Shimeon. And the name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Kozbi bat Tzur, head of the people of a father’s house in Midian. (B’midbar 25:14-15)
Zimri and Kozbi are killed in the previous parasha for committing a public idolatrous sexual act. According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) when Bilam was so impressed by Israel’s moral purity, it was realized the only way to defeat them would be to seduce them to the dark side. B’midbar 31:16 tells us that, “on the word of Bilam,” the Midianite women “lured Israelites to transgress against God in the matter of Peor,” the sexually charged Midianite cult. Rashi points out the extremes to which the Midianites would go illustrated by their willingness to send their daughters and even princesses to seduce the Israelites.
The Talmud says when a pious man marries a wicked woman, the man becomes wicked, but when a wicked man marries a pious woman, the man becomes pious. Of course it is not so easy as that. People do not change their nature, and a wicked person does not become good by association. However, when we look beyond the black and white, at the grays in which people live, we see that acts and nature are not always the same. One who is involved in wicked action can be redirected through influence and environment. How much nature and how much nurture affects who we are.
“Trading Places,” a 1983 movie examines this. Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) has everything. Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) has nothing. Each is affected by his environment for better and for worse. However, when influenced by opportunity, friendship and love (in the form of Jamie Lee Curtis), both men turn towards the light, and strive to be better. In the movie, it is not merely the actions that make the individuals good or wicked. It is the intentions in their hearts. As such, they can be led towards or away from good or wicked acts. Nonetheless, in the end, the true nature of each individual comes through nurtured by those around them.
We never learn if Zimri and Kozbi are wicked in their hearts. Their acts are enough to condemn them. Unfortunately, this is often true. However, teshuvah offers us an opportunity to turn inward and examine our nature while also turning outward to nuture others. We are in the beginning period leading to the Yamim Noraim. Beginning with Tammuz, moving into Av, then Elul, and finally Tishrei, we, as a people and then as individuals, take this time to examine our actions and weigh them against the essence of our hearts.