Pinhas the Priest grabs a spear and personally skewers an amorous Israelite prince and his prohibited heathen paramour in a public display of zealotry that has been recorded for eternity (Numbers Chapter 25). God is then effusive with his compliments and gratitude and eternally rewards Pinhas for his extreme actions. Pinhas has since been lauded by Rabbinic commentators throughout the generations as the paradigm of successful (and hard to emulate) zealotry.
The Ohr Hachayim (on Numbers 25:11) attempts to understand the secret of Pinhas’ wild success. He attributes three factors:
- Personally. Pinhas committed his zealotry personally. He didn’t delegate it to somebody else. He didn’t outsource. He didn’t command some underling to undertake the dangerous assignment. He did it himself with his own two hands, despite the very real personal danger (commentators explain that if any one aspect of Pinhas’ attack would have gone wrong, Pinhas himself would have been killed).
- Purely. Pinhas’ intentions were pure. He had no ulterior motive. He had nothing personal against his adversaries. They were desecrating God’s name and Pinhas’ goal was solely to correct that grave infraction.
- Publicly. Pinhas was not ashamed of his actions. He killed the prince in front of the entire nation. He believed so much in his cause, he had nothing to hide. It was done openly without any attempt to cover up any aspect.
So in short, the Ohr Hachayim’s lesson for wild success is simply not to be afraid. Not to be afraid to do things personally; not to be afraid to do things with pure motivation; and not to be afraid to do things publicly. To do the right thing personally, to do it purely and to do it publicly is an unbeatable combination.
To distant cousin and swimming zealot, Mark Spitz. He can teach a thing or two about wild success.