Rabbi Chaim of Brisk once said about zealousness: Both a housewife and a cat want to destroy mice. The sole difference lies in their attitudes. The housewife really wants to be rid of them. The cat, however, wants the mice to be there to attack them.
Pinchas acted zealously in this week's Torah portion to stop a public display of immorality.
When Pinchas killed Zimri and Kosbi, a tremendous controversy erupted among the people as to whether his actions were correct or murderous. This week's parsha begins with G-d "testifying" to the correctness of what Pinchas did. First, because of what Pinchas did, he stemmed the plague that had broken out and was killing multitudes. Second, the Torah repeatedly identifies Pinchas as the grandson of Aharon HaKohen.
From Law and Order and NYPD, to CSI and NCIS, the people of our generation can indefinitely figure out a way to commit murder without getting caught. The story of Pinchas’ crime would have made a great episode. He could’ve gotten away with it. But he didn’t. He openly confessed. Why did he do it? And why did he admit it?
The motives of the zealot who takes unilateral action are extremely important, for his very qualifications as a zealot hinge upon the question of what, exactly, prompted him to do what he did. Is he truly motivated to "still G-d's wrath", or has he found a holy outlet for his individual aggression? Is his act truly an act of peace, driven by the desire to reconcile an errant people with their G-d, or is it an act of violence, made kosher by the assumption of the label "zealot"?
And this leads us to the concept of Aveira Lishma. A sin in the name of heaven.
This concept is more than just doing an immoral act with proper motive. It's not just about breaking the speed limit to rush someone to the emergency room. It's a whole lot more.
Technically, one should be repulsed by loshon harah. But suddenly there’s a scandal involving their neighbor, or even their Rav, and the loshon harah starts pouring out. “It’s l’shem shamayim!” No it’s not. That’s not kanaut, zealousness. That’s their bad middos waiting for an opportunity to come out. Another example of mistaken Aveira Lishma; Cheating the government. “I’m allowed to. I learn in Kollel! It’s L’shem shamayim!” No it’s not. Speaking against certain schools, institution, rabbanim….Getting involved in community politics, creating machlokes…
We think it’s an Aveira lishma. Most of the time it’s not. It’s about my ego.
There is a mishne in Pirkei Avos “ Hevei Boreach min haAveira” One must run away from a sin. The only word that comes to mind here is Duh! I was expecting something a little more profound from the mishne. Actually, it IS profound. The Gr”a explains that it’s not teaching us to run away from regular sin. But even an Aveira Lishma should be done reluctantly, and only as a last resort. Like Queen Esther marrying Achashverosh. Like Yael killing the mighty king Sisra.
So how do I know if my zealousness is really for the sake of heaven? I must ask myself: “Does Hashem want me to be doing this?” Is He ok with me burning down a sheitel store because I feel sheitels aren’t tzanua? That’s what the Possuk says about Pinchas, G-d said “ Pinchas was zealous out of concern for MY honor”. It wasn’t for his ego.
Just like the scenario with the housewife vs. the cat in getting rid of the mouse, the same applies to protests against misdeeds. One must sincerely not want the misdeeds. One should not just use the misdeed as an opportunity to engage in protesting.
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions." That's only if we fail to analyze those intentions.
Have a great Shabbos!