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It’s wiser to be an activist than a critic

  • ParshaRabbiPink
In the aftermath of Pinchas’ slaying of Zimri and Kozbi at the end of last week’s Torah portion, we read this week how some of the Jewish people complained about him. They found it difficult to believe that someone who came from a lineage such as his could have been genuinely disgusted by Zimri’s acts. So, G-d reminded them that although on one side of his family, Pinchas’ ancestors were non-Jewish idol worshipers, on his father’s side, he was descended from Aaron the high priest.
by Rabbi Pini Pink, Chabad Greenstone | Jul 25, 2019

At times, we are tempted to find fault with good deeds, and question a person’s motives, but we can never know their true intention. So long as a person is doing good, they should not be put down or mocked, even if there is solid proof that they are acting insincerely. The Talmud advises us to study Torah and keep the mitzvot even for the wrong reasons, since this way, we will eventually come to have pure motives.

The followers of the “Alter Rebbe”, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, once informed their rebbe about the conduct of one of their number who acted outwardly like a pious man, but who they felt was not living up to the image he projected. The rebbe responded, “G-d should judge him like it is written in the Talmud at the end of Tractate Pe’ah.” Worried, the followers hurried to the study hall to refer to Tractate Pe’ah as they hadn’t intended to inflict any punishment on their colleague, merely to alert the rebbe to his behaviour.

“One who does not need charity but takes money set aside for charity will not pass away until they need to take charity. However one who is entitled to charity but manages without, will not pass away until they become wealthy and give charity to others. One who pretends to be lame, blind, or dumb will not pass away until they suffer such a fate.” (Peah 8:9)

The followers understood their rebbe’s “curse”. Although their colleague was only acting the part now, the rebbe was blessing him that in future he should fully fulfil his role as a hassid (pious individual).

More often than not, criticism does not come from a holy place, but is driven by a desire to excuse one’s own conduct. The Jewish people were quick to whisper about Pinchas’ genealogy, but none of them had “stepped up the plate”. Now, their wounded pride and laziness demanded that they speak up. So, G-d reminded them that they had no knowledge of Pinchas’ motives, which in fact came from his Kohen genes as a lover of and pursuer of peace, and that could not bear seeing the Jewish camp ripped apart.

The lesson is obvious. It’s much wiser to be an activist than a critic. Pinchas showed that we can never be truly sure of another’s motives, and the effect of a good deed will resonate forever, whatever the intention behind it.

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