Our Torah portion of Pinchas starts with God giving him high praise:
Pinchas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for me.
Pinchas’s passion, however, is quite problemetic, and God’s adulation is even more so. Pinchas took it upon himself to kill a fellow Israelite and his Mideonite partner, essentially murdering them for being in an interfaith relationship.
Taking away the specifics, Pinchas believes that his neighbor is doing something wrong. We can relate to this, as we know all too well that other Jews often think that we are doing something wrong: A bit more than a week ago, a rabbi in Israel linked Reform Jews to the followers of Korach who were swallowed up by the earth for not following the ‘correct’ form of Judaism. This week, news outlets reported a so-called blacklist of 160 rabbis, many of them reform or conservative. Making matters worse, this list was created by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Just last Shabbat I spoke about the cancelled Western Wall deal, which is a blatant refusal to recognize liberal Jews as partners in Jewish life
And let’s not kid ourselves - We engage in a similar kind of judgement of others. But thankfully, I don’t think any of us act upon our judgements and exact the kind of horrifying action as did Pinchas.
This troubling portion of Pinchas highlights a tension that each of us must recognize. On one hand, we want to be as welcoming and judgement-free as possible. We want to engage in audacious hospitality. Our tent is wide.
But on the other hand, a wide tent still has pegs. Boundaries. Reform Judaism is not an “anything goes” enterprise, and so we do judge. As a matter of fact, we should judge. There are standards. Standards of participation, of authenticity, of intellectual rigor, of ethical behavior.
Judaism finds a balance between these extremes: דן בכף זכות. This maxim means ‘Judge with compassion.’ You should have passion for your core beliefs and values. But, you should also judge others with compassion and kindness.
This can help us keep the tension between authenticity and flexibility, choice and obligation, uniformity and difference.
None of us are going to kill a fellow Jew if they do something we don’t approve of. But all of us judge others for their actions and their inactions. I hope that the troubling story of Pinchas teaches us to hold on to our values, our ideals, and our passion, whilst remembering to judge others with compassion.