July 2021 – Parshat Pinchas

Dear Friends,

After the difficult time that most of us endured last year, with constant lockdowns, it was hard to see how any other year could be any worse. We entered this year with hope, with expectation and with also with a sense of relief that the worst of what we thought our COVID experience would be had passed. While this year has allowed some return to normalcy, with lockdowns across Australia this past week, and increased restrictions across the country it feels a little gloomy.

This week, we also heard about the tragedy in Surfside, Miami where a 12-story apartment block suddenly combusted in the middle of the night, resulting in scores of missing people. Aside from the fact that the aunt and uncle of my close friends are missing, I was personally devastated to see the close-knit and incredible community of Surfside so affected. For those of you who don’t know, I spent a year of my rabbinic training as an intern at The Shul in Bal Harbour, the Synagogue that has been on the frontline of the public response to this tragedy. In addition, many of the missing people are members of this synagogue and I know them personally.

I was comforted by the words of Rabbi Lipskar from Miami, my old rabbinic mentor, who provided guidance to the many families of the missing and first responders who were gathered in the halls of the Synagogue. Echoing his words, I urge all of you to pray, take on extra Mitzvot and remind ourselves that the ways of G-d are unknowable. As Dina Feiglin White, my good friend living in Melbourne and the niece of two of the two missing Australians wrote on Facebook, “we are believers, and we are the sons of believers.” As Jewish people, we don’t rely on miracles, but we accept that they are part of G-d’s ways.  Please pray for all the missing in Miami.

As we read Parshat Pinchas this week, a portion of the Torah about Pinchas the zealot, we remind ourselves that there is a time and place for zealotry. Pinchas acted before the community of Israel to stop the plague caused by the mass adultery event with the Moabites that was taking place in the camp of Israel. While Pinchas’s actions—in spearing Zimri and Cosbi—were radical, they also reflected qualities that in certain circumstances we can emulate.

We must take initiative. We must see if we are the right person for the job at a time when a situation arises before us. Sometimes the task ahead is not easy. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide to take on responsibility. And other times it can be an immense internal struggle. But taking the example of Pinchas we see that if we are the right person at the right time, it is imperative that we commit ourselves.

As we enter this most peaceful Shabbat, a world away from Miami and removed from COVID-lockdowns across the country, it is important to remember that we can offer assistance and help to those in need. Every attribute and characteristic has its time and place. There is space for zealotry in the right circumstances. Let’s be zealous in our prayers for the safety of Australians experiencing difficulty with COVID in their cities and those that are still missing in Maimi.

Shabbat shalom and may we share good news,
Rabbi Gabi