Yoni Mozeson
FInding God's hiding places

The spear of Pinchas was dripping with irony

The Midrash connects two of the most powerful examples of moral outrage in the Torah – our parsha and the story of Dina. The Torah records the emotions of the sons of Yaakov when they first heard the terrible news concerning their sister Dina: 

וַיִּ֥חַר לָהֶ֖ם מְאֹ֑ד כִּֽי־נְבָלָ֞ה עָשָׂ֣ה בְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל לִשְׁכַּב֙ אֶת־בַּֽת־יַעֲקֹ֔ב וְכֵ֖ן לֹ֥א יֵעָשֶֽׂה  

And (the brothers) were very angry because of the defilement perpetrated on the Israelites; that a daughter of Yaakov was sexually assaulted – such an act cannot be tolerated” (Bereishis 24:7).

Although all the brothers were outraged, only Shimon and Levy carried out the actual rescue of Dina and killed out the men of Shechem. When confronted by their father, Yaakov, they defended their actions in the most graphic terms:

הַכְזוֹנָ֕ה יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה אֶת־אֲחוֹתֵֽנוּ׃

Shall our sister be forced to be like a prostitute” (Bereishis 34:31)?

Zimri – a turncoat against the moral indignation of his father

In our Parsha, the king of Midyan prostitutes his own daughter, the princess of Midyan. All this on the advice of the nefarious Bilam, who is trying to destroy the Jewish People.

The defining moment comes when Pinchas kills a tribal head, Zimri, and the Midyanite princess he is having relations with. Pinchas single handedly stopped a plague that was killing out thousands of Jews.  This is the scenario that is obvious from the text. However, with five words, the Midrash recasts the entire confrontation between Pinchas and Zimri. In doing so it
reveals a deep and ironic connection between the story of Dina and our Parsha. The Midrash states:

וזה פרץ גדר שגדר אביו

And this one (Zimri) broke through the moral boundary that his own father established.

Who was Zimri’s father and what moral boundary are we talking about? As we  mentioned, Shimon, together with his brother Levi, established an unequivocal moral  boundary for the Jewish People to uphold. They risked their lives to save their sister who was kidnapped and sexually abused.

Not only did Shimon and Levy kill the prince of Shechem, but Shimon married Dina to ease her shame and allow her to build anew with a family of her own. In fact, Shimon and Dina had a child together. According to Midrash Tanchuma  and Talmud Sanhedrin.* That child was none other than Zimri.

The confrontation of Zimri and Pinchas takes on a poignant new meaning.

The team of Shimon and Levy was so feared that, of the brothers, Yoseph chose to put Shimon in jail until the brothers brought Binyamin down to Egypt. Now these powerful allies are suddenly adversaries.  A descendant of Levy (Pinchas) must kill a descendant of Shimon (Zimri) to end a moral outrage perpetrated on the entire Jewish People. By doing so, Pinchas ended the plague that had already take the lives of 24,000 Jews. 

It’s astounding to see what happened to the moral beachhead established by Shimon and Levy just one generation ago – one brother valiantly upheld it, while one brother shamelessly breached it. 

*Midrash Tanchuma on Parshat Pinchas (section 2) and the Talmud (Sanhedrin 92b) say that Zimri had several names. One of them was (שאול בן הכנענית) Shaul the son of the Canaanite. This is the very same name listed as the son of Shimon who, together with Levi, rescued their sister Dina. (Rashi on Bereishis 46:10). A major commentary to Midrash Tanchuma, Beer Ha-amorim, says that Zimri may not literally be the son of Shimon. Rather, Zimri comes from the same שורש נשמה  ‘root soul’ as Shimon of the original 12 tribes

About the Author
(Almost 100 Midrash Video summaries can be found on my youtube playlist: After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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