Thursday, July 14, 2005

Kiruv in the Parashah

This week's Torah portion tells us of the immorality some Israelites performed with Midianite women in the desert:

Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman into his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the Israelites, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. (Num. 25:6)
The midrashic tradition tells us that the Israelite man was Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Simeon, and the Midianite woman was a princess named Kozbi. What is the background story to this incident?

R. Moshe Shternbuch, in his Tuv Ta'am Va-Da'as (ad loc.), homiletically offers the following background story: The Israelite men were attempting to reach out to the Midianites and bring them to faith in the Jewish God. However, in order to accomplish their lofty goal they needed to breach the chasm between the two divergent lifestyles. Therefore, they embraced some of the Midianite attitudes so as to be better able to influence the Midianites and bring them to the true faith. This corrupted the well-intentioned Israelites and led Kozbi, a Midianite princess, to convert to Judaism for purposes of marriage rather than belief. Zimri went to publicize his successful outreach program by showing off his recently converted Midianite wife.

However, this accomodation was nothing more than a distortion of Judaism that led to disastrous results. This program of outreach was so abominable that it led to the conclusion of the story -- the zealotrous Pinehas killed the two sinners who had brought Midianite attitudes and practices into the Jewish people.

R. Shternbuch continues to apply this to some outreach-oriented people in our day (without naming names) who, in our great sins, accomodate foreign attitudes in order to reach out to others. He strongly disapproves.

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