I recently read Frank Bruni’s op-ed on election season in the New York Times, titled, The Rebellions of 2016. In comparing both Republican and Democratic conventions, he writes: “The parallel speaks volumes about 2016’s mood, which is one of untamable grudges and unquenchable rebellion.”
The current cycle of weekly Torah readings from the Book of Numbers has eerie comparisons and could be called the Book of Rebellions:
+The people rebel over the food
+Moses rebels against God by hitting a rock instead of speaking to it to draw water for the people
+Miriam and Aaron-Moses’s siblings-rebel against his leadership
+That causes a ripple effect leading to a broader popular rebellion led by Korach,
+Finally, leading to a rapid slide to a full-scale popular rebellion (Israelite men co-mingling with Midianite women)
Pinchas, a priestly leader, literally takes the law into his own hands and quells the rebellion by being judge, jury and executioner (Numbers 25:7). That’s why Pinchas is given a b’rit shalom, “a covenant of peace” by God for his decisive but extrajudicial action. We focus on the restoration of “shalom” or peace in this phrase, but the word “b’rit” is equally important. Reintegrating relationships into a legal framework or “covenant” mitigates the possibility of a just rebellion from deteriorating into community chaos.
I think this is an important message to those of us who are religious leaders. We can consider that the Book of Numbers is a wake-up call to create frameworks of dialogue and action, so that righteous anger doesn’t indiscriminately scorch everything in its path, but focuses energy for change to where it’s needed.