This week I am cheating and using an old poem that I had written which will appear in the upcoming edition of the Mima'amakim journal this fall. It is an off-kilter sonnet voicing my discomfort with the massacre of Cozbi and Zimri by Pinchas. Viewed allegorically, much like the conquering of Eretz Israel in the book of Joshua, I have no problem with this narrative. These heroic though violent figures are extirpating the negative aspects of their own personalities and those within our communities. They are doing a reparation, a tikkun, by destroying the impulses that drive our animal soul.
Well, that works on a figurative, Kabbalistic level, but if we view Torah as a living history, how can one reconcile murder in the name of G-d? On top of that, Pinchas, a Kohen, is rewarded by HaKadosh Baruch Hu. In an age, in this way similar to all others, in which fundamentalists claim the right to exercise violent action based on divine authority (think Taliban, Saudi Arabia, GW's holy war which we continue to wage in the Middle East, Homophobes sanctioning hate crimes, a handful of militant Zionist settlers--NOT the Israeli majority-- who continue to decimate certain Arab populations because they believe it to be the will of G-d) and it becomes an even more frightening contemporary issue.
Please forgive me for getting so political for a moment, but this poem presents my, perhaps all too American, fear of what happens when religion and politics, or religious and political power become too much intertwined. Granted, I understand that there is a political vision presented by the Torah; however, that vision is not only political but spiritual. The just society that we will finally enjoy in the time of Mashiach will create an environment in which every person will have their material needs met, live in temporal and physical ease so that we can spend all our time connecting with the Divine. Perhaps Pinchas, though overly zealous, represents the singleminded person who only lives for that future time of redemption and his real shortcoming is wanting a future reality of justice so much, that he is willing to sacrifice the here and now, i.e. his relationship to those still created in G-d's image who do not share this vision. Who knows. Please enjoy and I welcome and encourage your thoughts and comments on the poem, or the politics...I guess.
Cozbi and Zimri (in memoriam)
A sharp removal: triceps return flesh,
Burgundy triangle lance dances slow
Above the broken vessels—seeping thresh.
Pinchas ruffles his priestly brow, eyes low.
How can those holy fingers elevate
After slicing through missteps of the dead—
Cozbi, a woman who germinates bait,
Easily bitten off by the prince, red—
Weak. Night quivers, like a bonfire’s embers.
Broken bottles, casks, grapes in the dirt,
Swallowed by earth, preserved in the amber
Like mosquitoes, ink on parchment—inert.
Pinchas, we dance through raw desert, lovesick—
Our shipwrecked race...yet, a reward for this?