Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1 )
This week’s Torah portion recounts the tragic events in the end of the last week’s portion, including the terrible sin of Baal Peor that culminated in the despicable act of immorality between Zimri, the Prince of the Tribe of Shimon and Kozbi, the Midianite Princess.
On the surface, Kozbi appears to be nothing more than an immoral person who hated the Jewish people. However, as is normally the case with regard to the reprehensible characters in the Torah, on deeper analysis, it seems that even Kozbi had some redeeming qualities and desires. The key to understanding this is found in the teachings of the great Kabbalist, the Rama MiPano in his seminal work on gilgulim (reincarnations), Gilgulei Neshamos.
The Rama MiPano writes that Kozbi returned in a future incarnation as the evil Queen Jezebel, the wife of King Achav.1 Even more startling, is that she returned in yet another incarnation as the wife of the Roman General, Turnus Rufus who later converted and married Rabbi Akiva2. What can be the connection between Kozbi, Jezebel, and the righteous wife of Rabbi Akiva?
Jezebel is surely one of the most nefarious characters in the whole of Tanach. She led her husband, King Achav, astray in idol worship, persecuted the Prophets, in particular the Prophet, Eliyahu, and encouraged her husband to have an innocent man, Naboth HaCaremeli, killed. And yet, the Sages find words of praise for even this contemptible woman. The Midrash3 tells us:
“Her house adjoined the marketplace. Whenever a bride and groom passed by, she would go out of her house and would clap her hands, sing in their honor, and walk them steps…Therefore [although Eliyahu of blessed memory prophesied], ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel’4, the dogs had no power over the limbs that had performed acts of kindness. Thus, it is written, ‘They went to bury her, but they found no more than the skull, the feet, and the palm of her hands5’”.
The question arises as to why did she excel in the kindness of being giving joy to the bride and groom in particular6? In order to answer this, it is first necessary to point out, as we have mentioned, that even the more negative characters in the Tanach are not simplistic, ‘bad guys’, rather they often have deep intentions that drive their misjudged action. It seems that Jezebel had a deep desire to join the Jewish people and to marry a Jewish man. This can provide us with a certain level of understanding as to why some of the only good deeds that Jezebel committed were related to giving joy to a bride and groom at their wedding. This may be because of her soul’s deep-seated desire to marry a Jewish man and cleave to the Jewish people.
Accordingly, she related to the joy of a genuine Jewish marriage and celebrated at wedding. Unfortunately, she went about it in the wrong way and because of that, she was severely punished and had to return in another reincarnation.
The same can be said for Kozbi – it can be suggested that she had a deep drive to cleave to the Jewish people, which directed her to yearning to cleave to Zimri. Obviously, she was misguided in the way that she went about it, doing it in a forbidden way, and due to her sin and the damage that she caused, she had to come back in another gilgul, incarnation.
The final rectification of Kozbi and Jezebel came about in another non-Jewish woman, the wife of Turnus Rufus, who had the same deep-seated craving to cling to the Jewish people. However, this time she went about it in the correct way, converting in the proper way, with intent to keep the Torah, and to cling to a Jewish man in a permitted way, through marriage. In this way, she fulfilled the desires of her earlier incarnations, but did so in the correct manner.
Needless to say, incarnations are something beyond most of us and we have no way of knowing our status in this regard. However, the examples of Kozbi, Jezebel and the wife of Rabbi Akiva teach that the area in which a person feels a strong drive is likely that area where he can fulfil his life purpose. And they also serve as a warning to make sure that we fulfil that drive in the right way, in consonance with the Torah. May we all merit to fulfil our life’s purpose.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Interestingly, he adds that as is well-known, Eliyahu HaNavi is a reincarnation of Pinchas. Kozbi was killed by Pinchas, and hundreds of years later, her gilgul, Izevel, made great efforts to take revenge by kill Pinchas’ own gilgul, Eliyahu.
- Nedarim, 50a-50b.
- Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer, 17.
- Melachim Aleph, 21:23.
- Melachim Beis, 9:35.
- The Midrash also says that she lamented dead people, but this will not be addressed in this essay.
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