Torah Tidbits


Healing Communal Rifts
Shabbat Parashat Pinchas
June 29, 2013 – 21 Tammuz 5773

Healing Communal Rifts

Experiencing the pain of a communal rift is one thing.  It is another thing altogether to possess the spiritual gift of being able to heal the rift.

While many of us can hope to resolve specific issues that may give rise to a particular conflict, such resolution does not automatically bring a divided community back together and effect organic healing.

According to Rav Ashi (Zevachim 101b), Pinchas had that special gift of being able to heal a communal rift.  In fact, according to Rav Ashi, it was only after Pinchas succeeded in healing the rift between the Israelite tribes who prepared to cross the Jordan river into the Promised Land and the two and a half tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of the tribe of Menashe who desired to remain on the East bank of the Jordan, that Pinchas received the title of “Pinchas, Ha-Kohen [Pinchas, the Priest]!”

In Chapter 22 of the Book of Joshua we read of the controversy that erupted between the two and a half tribes and the rest of the tribes of Israel.

The two and a half tribes were suspected by the rest of the Israelites of being drawn away from Israel and away from God.  They were suspected of being drawn into idol worship.  The rift was seemingly insurmountable.  Civil war was immanent.

Pinchas was in the delegation sent to speak with the two and a half tribes.  He succeeded not only in listening and in clarifying the true intent of the tribes.  He able to go beyond that and to restore a sense of unity, shared purpose, dedication and reconciliation among all the tribes of Israel.  In doing so, he became an instrument of blessing – a source of renewed inspiration and love.

Rav Ashi apparently noted that it is here, in the Joshua story, that Pinchas is first referred to as “Pinchas Ha-Kohen!”  That is probably the basis of Rav Ashi’s teaching that Pinchas was rewarded with this title only after he successfully facilitated healing of a potentially dangerous and destructive communal rift.

We often pray to be students of Aaron Ha-Kohen [Aaron, the Priest], who was known for his special gifts of restoring peace among people and bringing people closer to God and to Torah.

Rav Ashi’s teaching reminds us that Aaron was not the last in the line of people who succeeded in healing communal rifts.  Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson, also had that gift and was rewarded for using it.

Rav Ashi’s teaching reminds us that, faced with the threat of a communal rift, we should not despair.  It is as if Rav Ashi is saying to us today: Remember, the art of healing communal rifts has not been lost, and reward awaits those who use it well!

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror