The spear of Pinchas was dripping with irony.

The first and surely one of the most powerful examples of moral outrage in the Torah is the story of 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)

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

The defining moment of our Parsha is 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? 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 after she 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 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.

Now the story of Zimri and Pinchas takes on a poignant new meaning.

A generation ago, the Prince of Shechem sexually assaulted the daughter of Yaakov. Now 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.

One generation ago, Shimon and Levy bravely ended a moral outrage perpetrated on their sister and the entire family of Yaakov. Now  a descendant of Levy must kill a descendant of Shimon to end a moral outrage perpetrated on the entire Jewish People.

*Midrash Tanchuma on Parshat Pinchas (section 2) and the Talmud
(Sanhedrin 92b) say that Zimri had several names. One of them was (שאול ובן 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. (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 12 tribes.

About the Author
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.
Related Topics
Related Posts

We have a new, improved comments system. To comment, simply register or sign in.