Pinchas: The Testimony of Cozbi bat Zur, Midianite, Jew-by-Choice, Interrupted By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Pinchas (פינחס)
Torah: Numbers 25:10 – 30:1
Haftarah: I Kings 18:46 – 19:21

Moses: My time is drawing near…I can no longer control these Israelites. They are not the Exodus Generation who knew me, the slaves I liberated when I was young and strong, and, with a twitch of my mighty shepherd’s staff, could conjure up a forthcoming of frogs, or a ravenous flight of locusts. By God’s awesome breath, the hail roared down, crushing the Egyptian wheat and barley while it stood in ear. No: this bullheaded Wilderness Generation, born into freedom, is demanding beyond control: they wish for milk and honey now, in place of manna, heaven-sent; they are quick to rush into battle, and lose, to claim the land they have not yet earned. O my Lord! O my land, which I will never live to see! When did my control, my domination of my People, slip out of my shaking, palsied hands?


Pinchas: I am your Zealot, Uncle Moses: I will rescue the Nation of Israel. Now is the time for Action, and no more Words. I am a Kohen-Priest, but I do not shy away from Violence when Rank Impurity invades the Sacred Sanctuary Precincts. That is why I took my sharply-pointed Lance, and skewered both Zimri ben Salu of the Tribe of Shimon, and his pagan harlot, Cozbi bat Zur, a she-whelp of the foul Midianites, when they dared to pollute the ground before God’s Holy Place of Sacrifice and Worship. I am not yet done: I will kill any and all who dare defy the Word of God: I will conquer, surely conquer, in God’s Name: I will cross the Jordan, yea, and destroy all those pagans living there, for I come not in peace, but with a sword.


Moses: Do you not know, my blood-and-thunder nephew, that your Aunt Zipporah, my wife—though where she is now, I cannot say; I have not been home in weeks, so long have I been occupied with the matters of my People—is a Midianite? And that our laws of jurisprudence hearken from my father-in-law, Jethro, High Priest of Midian? How can you trample on the rights of our neighbors in this manner?


Pinchas: What’s done is done, in my God’s Name! And I will stab and kill again, and again, until the very Jordan runs red with blood. For God commends my deeds—so have I written it down, in your Book. My God has blessed me with a Covenant of Peace—is that ironic enough, for you, my Uncle Moses?


(And Moses was silent. Yet now, we hear the Testimony of the Dead.)


Cozbi bat Zur: I was a princess of the Midianites, and my childhood friend was Dodya, a granddaughter of Midianite High Priest Jethro who, like her grandfather, became a Hebrew. We Midianites had heard that he had studied all the faiths extant in our time, and, by his own lights, found Judaism most amenable. He converted his family only—Dodya, my friend, as well—and set out to follow his son-in-law’s tribe.

I came along, curious about this new belief: how could one God create both heaven and earth? How could One God control both good and evil? I came, I wished to learn! When the Israelites encamped near our people, I saw how a few Midianites ne’er-do-wells, hearing they had Egyptian gold, went to try and steal it away from them, using dancing girls to distract them—I came, but stayed in hiding.


Zimri ben Salu: I was a wanderer from the Israelite camp, and that is where I found my Cozbi—the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She told me of her quest, to learn about, perhaps to join in, the ways and manners of our tribe. I did not know what to say, although I knew other “strangers to our faith” had done so: had not our Rabbi Moses himself taken a Midianite wife, our Aunt Zipporah?

I told Cozbi to hide amid the desert bushes, and went to find Old Moses, or, perhaps, an Israelite Elder or two, to put the question of admitting her, my dearest Cozbi. I must admit—I was having feelings for her: she was so pretty, innocent, and sweet—I had no evil thoughts toward her, I swear before God!


Moses: In the midst of the camp, I saw Zimri coming toward me, but I was preoccupied: Joshua had told me of Midianite visitors on the outskirts of the camp.

I thought, Perhaps, my Zipporah had returned, forgiving me?—I went to see, and was astonished at the dancers and the temptations they offered: Was this the Golden Calf all over again? Were the people bound to sin, wherever they went?


Cozbi: As I hid, on my loving Zimri’s orders, I looked around the camp, not so far off, and saw the most wondrous sight: the Tent of Meeting, and the Holy Sanctuary—I imagined seeing an Angel of my Hebrew God, snow-white, garbed in white samite, hovering over the Tent—I heard it call to me: “Cozbi! Cozbi bat Zur! It is I, Raphael, the Archangel; the Israelite God calls to you, bids you ‘Welcome as you join My People; welcome to the People Israel! Come, draw near!’”

What could I do but approach, slowly, hesitantly? I walked a bit closer, looking down shyly in the Presence, and, fearful of being unworthy to stand on this holy ground, fell to my knees, and prostrated myself, slowly, slowly, as a warm feeling spread throughout my body, to my very soul….


Zimri: After approaching Moses, calling his name, only to see him turn and bustle off in the other direction, I became worried and hastened back to my Cozbi, to find that—Horrors! She was lying in the dust there, before the Sanctuary, too close for a Hebrew, let alone a pagan Midianite—and there, there!

–was Pinchas, lance in hand, stalking her, mumbling to himself—curses and imprecations, no doubt—what could I do? I leapt, tried uselessly to block his spear, and covered her body with mine, in a vain attempt to protect her—O my Cozbi! O my beloved girl! O my wife-to-be, my Jew-to-never-become!


Pinchas (wiping his forehead with a cloth stitched of linen and wool): It is done. I have cleansed the Holy Sanctuary of the sinful pagan blood….


So may it continue to be done in Our Land, forever, by Zealots such as I, O Lord!

Use me as you will, and may I prove worthy of this Covenant of Peace, with which I—that is, You—have blessed me.

So be it written; so be it sealed, in this our Book.



Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.


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