Tuesday, July 03, 2007

How to Be a Zealot

A few sources discussing zealotry:

Rabbi Berel Wein writes on this week's Parsha:

Pinchas and his behavior become the exception and not the rule in Jewish life and tradition. Zealotry is a very difficult characteristic to gauge correctly. How much are personal quirks involved in such zealous behavior? Jewish history and society is littered by the victims of religious zealotry who were felled by personal attacks clothed in the guise of religious piety and zealotry.


The zealot often covers his own weaknesses and self-doubt by attacking others. That is why the people of Israel questioned the motives of Pinchas in killing Zimri. Because of this, it is obvious that only God, so to speak, could save Pinchas from unwarranted criticism and public disapproval. But in so doing, God, again so to speak, warns us of the dangers of zealotry. He will not step in again to rescue the zealot from public and historical disapproval.

The Mesilas Yesharim in the chapter on Chasidus discusses that the motivation of zealotry originates from love of Hashem :

The third branch of the love of God is jealously - being jealous for the Holy One's Name, hating His enemies and striving to humble them as much as possible so that the service of the Blessed One will be done and His honor magnified. ….It is evident that just as one who loves his friend will not tolerate his being beaten or insulted, but will certainly rise to his defense, so one who loves the Name of the Blessed One will not be able to abide the desecration of His Name (G-d forbid) and the transgression of His mitzvoth. …This is the intensity of the love that one who truly loves his Creator should be able to display. As it is said (Psalms 97:10), "Those who love God hate evil."

Also related(further in the perek):

The true motivation, which is common to Saints, who have exerted themselves and persevered to acquire it, is to serve solely for the purpose of magnifying and extending the honor of the Master of Blessed Name. One will serve for this end only after he has grown strong in love for the Blessed One, and longs and lusts for the magnification of His honor, and is pained by anything which detracts from it. He will hope that he is at least doing his part towards magnifying the honor of the Blessed One and he will wish that all others possessed this aspiration. The shortcomings of others in this respect will pain and grieve him, not to speak of his own unintentional and accidental lapses and those resulting from his natural weakness, which makes it difficult for him to constantly protect himself against sin, as it is stated (Ecclesiastes 7:20), "A man is not righteous in the land, who will do good and not sin."

And finally, Rabbi Leff writes:

Rabbi Chaim Brisker pointed out that there are two types of zealots - one praiseworthy and one not. They can be compared to a housewife and a cat. The housewife and the cat both want to rid the the house of mice. There is only one difference: the housewife hopes there will never be another mouse to eliminate; the cat is hopeful that there will be many more mice.

Before we are zealous to attack the evils of the world, let us make sure that we are acting as housewives not as cats, so that we can merit through our ways of pleasantness to attract our estranged brothers to Torah and mitzvos.

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