"Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, has turned My anger away from Bnei Yisrael by zealously avenging Me among them so that I did not destroy Bnei Yisrael because of My zeal. (25:11)"
A deadly plague was spreading among Bnei Yisrael, killing thousands of people.
Meanwhile, Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, publicly took a Midianite princess into his tent. Moshe, Elazar, and the elders of Bnei Yisrael all witnessed Zimri’s brazen act but were at a loss on how to respond.
Pinchas was neither a leader nor an elder of Bnei Yisrael (up until that point), but he remembered what Moshe had taught as the correct response to a situation like this. He brought the law to Moshe’s attention, and Moshe urged him to fulfill it: “Let the one who reads the letter be the agent to carry it out,” he said.
Pinchas entered Zimri’s tent, witnessed him sinning with the Midianite woman, and killed him, whereupon the plague miraculously stopped. G-d rewarded Pinchas for his zealousness with an eternal covenant of goodwill and kehunah (priesthood) for him and all his descendants.
Commenting on this episode, Rashi remarks: “At the incident of the Golden Calf, Moshe successfully confronted six hundred thousand people… and here he was so helpless? Rather, this happened so that Pinchas would come and take what was suited for him.”
The story of Pinchas teaches us that there are times when we cannot look solely to our leaders for instruction. In this instance, the leaders’ lack of clarity was Divinely orchestrated in order to allow Pinchas to take “what was suited for him.”
Likewise, when something on which you can have a positive impact comes to your attention, you must step up to the plate and get involved. The inaction of those responsible and the silence of the regular sources of inspiration are not an indication that you too can stand by idly.
Every person is charged with a unique spiritual mission—part of the Divine plan that no one else in the world can fulfill. The inaction of others may be G-d’s way of urging you to claim the moment that is rightfully yours.
Based on a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe volume 2
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