The couple who dared

The people, killed by Pinchas at the end of the previous parashah, Balak, do not remain nameless for a long time. Almost immediately we are provided with their exact names and ancestry. Of course, this is done not to commemorate their death but to ensure that the names of the violators of the law shall never be forgotten, or, according to Rashi, that they will endure the eternal shame.

The traditional stance of Pinhas’s deed, again expressed by Rashi, emphasizes the corruption of the Midianites, the ancestral tribe of the slain Cosbi. Her father, who, as Rashi succinctly puts it, did not spare his daughter, intentionally designating her for the promiscouos behaviour that would entice the children of Israel to sin.

Who would have doubted it? Of course, we can dismiss the unfortunate couple as the incident of history used by our sages to illustrate the abhorrent nature and the inevitable tragic end of the forbidden liaisons. Zimri and Cosbi are to be shamed, Pinchas is to be lauded, which he is.

But what if they were just two people loving each other, a prince and a princess, first meeting under the starry sky of the desert and then deciding to reveal their liaison in the unfortunate moment of the mass crisis in the Israelite camp? What if Cosbi was no honey trap set up by Midianites but just a girl loving a boy and wanting to stay with him?

Even if they were, nobody was interested in that. They were crushed under the propaganda machine, becoming the illustration of misdeed and an object of endless shaming.

Just like any other private person, who dared to behave differently.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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