Pinchas: Why Authentic Spirituality Means Selflessness
July 9, 2020
Portion of Pinchas - Why Authentic Spirituality Means Selflessness
In our social-media obsessed world, it sometimes seems like everyone performs for the benefit of other people. Facebook and Instagram have tricked us into thinking like celebrities, and as a result we feel the eyes of others on us more than ever as we go about our daily lives. It begs the question, why are we so infatuated with these platforms? With ourselves, how we look in front of others.
Of course, followers and fans make us feel adored. We may feel our self-esteem inflate with every “like” received. However, it can also make us feel rejected, unloved, ugly, and unpopular. They are designed to make us feel like we are missing out, and to make us exaggerate our lifestyles so our lives appear more meaningful and glamorous to others.
Both outcomes — so inextricably linked with the ego — are undesirable in their own way, but the mixture of them is especially potent. The danger is that this disorienting back-and-forth of acceptance followed by rejection, approval followed by disapproval, attention followed by disinterest can drive us to say and do things that are not in sync with our values as we essentially beg for the validation of our digital “friends.” When will it ever be enough? In this context, it’s very difficult to keep the Divine close. It’s very difficult to calibrate our actions with the right things to do, as opposed to the popular things.
That’s why it’s important to ask ourselves — how far will we go to be an object of envy and admiration for others?
Pinchas was not someone who was concerned with these questions. Of course, he did not have access to social media, but even if he had somehow, he would not have had much to boast about in his life. He was the grandson of Aaron the High Priest, and his father married a woman who came from Jethro, who used to bring calves for idolworshipping. For this reason, although Pinchas was a Priest, he never had a chance to become the High Priest; he could not become an important person in society. However, this did not affect Pinchas and his actions. He was a humble man, and he didn’t feel entitled to more than what he had been given by the Divine.
As we know, Pinchas did eventually become a High Priest, and the action that changed his destiny is a surprising one. He was there when Balak and Bilam sent a woman to use witchcraft, sexuality and Black Magic to eliminate the Israelites. Her mission was to seduce the leader of the Israelites -Moses — and by sleeping with him, she would destroy the nation of Israel.
Fortunately, she could not find Moses, a man so humble that he could not be found even by his killer. Instead, she encountered the leader of the tribe of Shimon, and she began making love to him. In accordance with the plan, the people of the nation of Israel started to die as a result of this Black Magic. Pinchas, seeing this disaster unfold, killed them both. When the people of Shimon saw this, they rushed to kill Pinchas.
Pinchas died, and his soul left his body. Yet this is not the end of his story. Two souls, which were of the children of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, then came and augmented the soul of Pinchas. After this, Pinchas stayed alive for a long time and was eventually reincarnated as Elijah the Prophet. God Himself announced that Pinchas’ family would now be High Priests, and why? Because of an action that we would instinctively say is wrong, because of an act of violence that is totally unacceptable to our societal values. This is confusing for us to understand. It would appear that Pinchas received God’s approval for doing something terrible (killing two people), and this makes us question whether God endorses or even rewards acts of violence. Many fundamentalists of all religions have chosen to interpret their religious texts in this way. They believe that if they commit the correct act of violence, they too can be chosen by God like Pinchas was.
That analysis does not understand what was truly significant about Pinchas’ action. It was not the violence that God rewarded, but Pinchas’ act of self-sacrifice. Of course, he must have known that for killing the leader of the Shimon, he too would lose his life. However, this knowledge did not even factor into his decision-making. Pinchas did not save the Israelites because he thought it would be a good opportunity for him personally; he did it because it was the right thing to do. He did it without working out what the costs and benefits would be to him as an individual, because this was not important to him. Instead, it was his deep love for humanity that made him make the ultimate sacrifice for others. Pinchas saw himself as nothing, and for that reason he was willing to do everything when the moment required it. This is what it means to truly serve the Divine. This is why Pinchas was recognized and rewarded by God for his actions.
We can learn from Pinchas’ approach. After all, if we approach spirituality with the mindset of “what’s in this for me?” then we are fundamentally misunderstanding spirituality. We are abusing it. It is instead our true mission to be spiritual without seeking the benefits of spirituality for ourselves. An authentic spirituality should seek benefits for others, not ourselves. This is why we must ask ourselves — are we here to connect to the light? Or are we here to benefit? Are we here to make ourselves look good? Because it is very easy to perform spirituality for the eyes of other people and to make yourself look good. It is also meaningless. If you are pursuing spirituality in the hope that others perceive you as a spiritual person, you are doomed to failure. If your priority is to care for other people and to contribute positively to the world, this is what it means to be spiritual. If you hear cries for help around you — and you will, if you listen — then you too should respond with decisive action. You too can be like Pinchas, and do what is best for the people around you, even and especially when that isn’t the easiest option.
The lesson from Pinchas is that we must care about people, but we must not care what they think of us. This is an important distinction. A person who lives for the approval of others will be confused all of their life. They will live life as if they are on a rollercoaster, thrown from side to side and back and forth by the conflicting opinions of others, never still enough to think straight. They will be too busy weighing up the costs and benefits for them when they are called upon to take decisive action. Most worryingly, they will do the popular thing when they need to do the right thing. Thankfully, Pinchas was not this kind of person. Someone like Pinchas, who lives only for the approval of the Divine, lives with complete focus.
God gave Pinchas the covenant of Peace, and in the word peace – Shalom – the letter Vav is split in half. There is a meaning behind this. The word shalom, which means peace, also means completion. Thus, if we are busy trying to be perfect in the eyes of other people, we are not serving the Divine. If we are busy doing the right thing as best as we can, regardless of whether it is the most popular thing to do, then we are complete even in our imperfection. This is when God will award you the covenant of peace and the covenant of completion. Basically, this is when you’re doing the right thing, and everything falls into place.
What it means to be spiritual is to start with the words and say “I believe in myself, and I believe in the Divine,” and to mean it. From there, our actions take over and we do things for the right reasons and to contribute to the right path. The purpose of this is not to distract you from social media, or to tell you not to post the selfie or touch up your photos. Relax, enjoy it, but be aware on a conscious level that our egos shouldn’t control us or get the best of us. We have the option to lessen our egos and let our spiritual side, the giving, humble side guide us through our days. When we choose to do this, we grow closer to the Divine and understand better (and faster) our true purpose and power.