Pinchas: Language and Translation

Pin’has son of El’azar son of Aharaon the priest
has turned my venomous-anger from the Children of Israel
in his being-zealous with my zeal in their midst,
so that I did not finish off the Children of Israel in my jealousy.
–25:11, Fox translation

In the Stone edition, God’s “wrath” is turned back when Pinehas “zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in My vengeance.”

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary references “wrath” and “passion.” But an extended commentary, “Another View” to this portion, by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, notes:

A more literal translation of v.11 may make it easier to understand why Phinehas is rewarded for his violent act. Phinehas “was zealous for YHVH’s zeal.” Kinah (“zeal” or “jealousy”) is the furious sense of righteous indignation that one may feel when one has been betrayed by someone who owed one allegiance and fidelity.

The passage goes on to explain how often Israel is warned that God is a “jealous God,” listing some examples: Exodus/Shemot 20:5, 34:14; Deuteronomy/Devarim 4:24, 5:9; Joshua 24:19.

“Like Elijah, who is also ‘zealous for YHVH’ (I Kings 19:10),” Frymer-Kensky writes, “Phinehas empathizes with God’s rage and acts it out. He acts with violence to stop violence, like setting a backfire to stop a wildfire.” This portion sets up the sacrificial system as the “covenant of peace” to signify that violence and taking the law into one’s own hands is a thing of the past, she argues.

Visit “Source Materials” for citations to all mentioned translations and commentaries.

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Virginia blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day. Manages is on hiatus.

2 thoughts on “Pinchas: Language and Translation”

  1. You might be able to apply this to war in general. Pinchas gets a “covenant of peace” from God. [Politically correctly translated as “covenant of friendship.”] I read a commentary entitled “Give War a Chance” — on Conduct war to achieve peace? Interesting that it refers to one of the sayings on the Micah frieze. “Be like the disciples of Aaron. Seek peace and pursue it.” I guess we would have to say that Pinchas was one of Aaron’s disciples. Maybe that saying is contrary to Micah’s basics?

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