Joseph Cox
Using the Modern to Illuminate the Timeless

Brit Milah, Pinchas and Cyprus

Ayia Napa, Cyprus. (by LSD for Society on Unsplash)
Ayia Napa, Cyprus. (by LSD for Society on Unsplash)

In Parshat Balak, the leaders of the Jewish people engage in public sex with the women of Moav. They engage in the worship of a god known as Peor. Peor means to ‘expose’ or ‘express.’ The people are worshiping the values of self-exposure, or perhaps self-expression.

G-d is furious with their actions. Even if the women of Moav (or Cyprus) were willing, the engagement in public sex with random women was fundamentally unacceptable.

The question is: why?

On one level, intimate relations serve a critical role in Judaism. Reproductive activity is an opportunity to create new life (walking in the path of G-d the Creator), but it is also an opportunity to continue our relationship with G-d over our generations.

Nothing makes this clearer than brit milah (circumcision). Brit milah marks the male reproductive organ. While women alone can bear children, men alone have positive reproductive will. Men alone can plant the seed while women alone can enable it to grow. I don’t use this analogy to be cute: Adam (meaning ‘man’) can plant crops but they can only grow in Adama (meaning ‘earth’). Adama is the feminine form of Adam.

When Avraham is commanded to perform brit milah (circumcision), he marks that his reproductive organ is not simply going to be used for pleasure or Darwinian reproduction. Instead, it will be used to continue the divine relationship from generation to generation. When we mark our 8-day-old sons’ male reproductive organs, we are passing them the obligation to use their reproductive will in the service of the divine relationship. We are instructing them, almost from birth, that they are responsible for the proper use of their reproductive will. That will should be used to carry the divine relationship from generation to generation, not just to satisfy an animalistic drive for pleasure or a Darwinian drive for reproduction.

If we think it is important to mark our 8-day-old boys in this way, then certainly we should condemn teenage boys who misuse their reproductive will – no matter how willing the participants.

Of course, these boys did not simply engage in inappropriate sex.

They did so publicly – sharing videos of their behavior.

They engaged in Peor – exposure.

When G-d appears to Moshe, he does so through the burning bush – which burns with spiritual energy but is never consumed. This is Hashem’s unique power, the power to create without destruction. G-d is The Creator and a great deal of the Torah focuses on showing us how to walk in His/Her footsteps.

Of course, there are limits to what we can do. We can maximize creation and minimize destruction, but in our reality, every act of creation requires an act of destruction. We cannot literally bridge this gap. So, instead, we make up for our limits symbolically. When the Kohen ascends to the altar, he does so via a ramp (not stairs) in order to avoid exposing himself. The Kohen, like any human, produces waste. But he hides it in order to draw close to G-d.

We seek to represent the G-dly path even though we are limited in our ability to follow it. We constrain and hide our natural limits and natural desires – we do not celebrate them.

We raise ourselves towards G-d’s spiritual reality, we do not seek to bring Him/Her down to our physical reality.

By engaging in these acts, these boys failed in their sacred responsibilities. By sharing these acts, they lowered themselves (and the girl). And by wrapped themselves in Judaism and G-dliness when they were freed, they lowered G-d.

They committed all the sins of Ba’al Peor.

In the story of Ba’al Peor, G-d commanded Moshe to kill the leaders of the people and Moshe commanded the people to kill those involved in the sin itself.

But the people did nothing. Only Pinchas acted. And our relationship with G-d was fractured as a result.

We must not do nothing.

Instead, we must be zealous in defending the values of our people. We must condemn the behavior of these boys. And we must raise our own sons and daughters to follow a more G-dly path.

About the Author
I hold a degree in Intellectual History from University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Financial Analysis. In addition to writing weekly Torah Shorts, I am the author of the City on the Heights, a drama/thriller set in contemporary Syria and Iraq that explores how the Jewish people can positively influence the world around them. My books are available at TorahShorts.com.
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