We praise him as an enthusiast and think he was worthy of his Divine reward (Psalm 106:30-31). At the same time we recognise that zealotry in the wrong hands is a curse to the perpetrator as much as to their victims.
“Zeal” is from a root that means to seethe or boil. If boiling over means wreaking immense harm to anyone who gets in the way, how can it be a good thing?
There are at least four good reasons against this kind of zealotry:
1. It employs brawn, not brain: it doesn’t say, “Let’s talk together and work out a way in which we can live together”.
2. Regardless of whether the cause is moral or not, it denies the rights and dignity of the other.
3. It knows that the cause is already lost and says it no longer matters how much havoc is unleashed.
4. It has no idea of the blessings that can come from kindness, concern and charity.
The story of Pinchas teaches us not only how to help a cause, but how to destroy it.