At the end of Parashat Balak, after a number of failed attempts to curse Bnei Yisrael, Balak decides to send some young women from Midyan to seduce Bnei Yisrael. The plan works quite well, and many Jews are seduced into committing both idolatry and adultery. Pinchas alone stands up to fight this influence and even kills the leader of Shim’on for his actions. This reaction, however, raises several questions: Does Pinchas have the authority to do such an act? And, if so, why doesn’t Moshe, the leader, do it? Finally, if such an act is to be commended, why doesn’t Moshe take the liberty of stopping the problem himself?
In the late 18th century, a young slave named Toussaint L’ouverture lived in the small French colony of Saint Dominique in Haiti. He was born into slavery as a boy and was freed when he was 33 years old. Although L’ouverture was a free man with a substantial amount of land and wealth in 1791, the vast majority of blacks living in his colony were slaves to white plantation owners. In spite of L’ouverture’s separation from the problem, in 1791, he joined a revolution against the French and helped free the slaves. Although he had much to lose, his principles of freedom and justice led him to remove the French presence and tyranny from the island.
When evil is at our doorstep we cannot expect others, even those in charge, to address it. Such evil is before us and us alone, and we are solely responsible to remove it. While we may be sacrificing much for the sake of its removal, we must nevertheless stand by our principles because principles, unlike fleeting materialistic goods, are everlasting. Pinchas, like L’ouverture, internalizes this message and takes matters into his own hands by fighting back against the evil at hand and restoring justice to Bnei Yisrael.