In last week’s parsha, Parshat Balak, we saw how Pinchas assessed a situation and handled it. This week’s parsha, Parshat Pinchas, Pinchas is rewarded with kehuna (priesthood).
And in 2017, we follow in his footsteps by being at the ready to help people who are bleeding, not breathing or hurt in some other physical manner. We teach acronyms like FAST, which tells us how to recognize a stroke. How else can we assess a situation if we don’t know the signs of a problem? We make it easy for us to be able to help others.
But for many people, this only applies for people who exhibit physical signs. While we may know the signs for mental and other psychologically driven illnesses, we don’t act on them.
Instead, we act as bystanders.
I met a girl one summer when I worked at camp where the counselors were from out of town. This girl was fun and bubbly. She was also tall and pretty and could’ve been a teen model. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with her. She claimed that at the end of the summer was someone’s wedding and that she couldn’t gain any weight or else she wouldn’t fit in her dress. This made sense; no one wanted to gain weight over the summer. We all thought nothing of it. This girl exercised. She ate healthy. It was all good.
That’s when things got weird.
She ate very little. She exercised a lot. She was thin to begin with, and so when we noticed that she was really thin, we were scared. This wasn’t healthy and cool anymore. She was anorexic. We were 15, but we knew the signs. I’d read about anorexia, but had never seen it happen before my eyes.
One girl said that our unhealthy friend did this every summer. This may have been true, but that didn’t matter. We staged an intervention and she blew us off. We were afraid that she’d faint or get really hurt. Finally, she conceded. She ate more healthily and looked much healthier by the end of the summer; then again, she’d always been perfect looking.
All people suffer from something. Whether it’s sexism, racism, a mental illness—there are signs that there is an issue, and yet we ignore them or pretend to not see them because don’t want to get involved. We become bystanders.
Simply put: there’s no chance of being called a hero.
Physical problems gain media attention. More frequently, there have been news reports about Good Samaritans who intervene in these types of situations. Remember the guy who erased the anti-Semitic pictures from the subway doors? That doesn’t seem as heroic as saving a person from going into cardiac arrest, but it matters all the same.
Pinchas realized that there was a problem—one of the lowest of the lows of all sins was about to be done. Who wants to be a hero for something like that? But that wasn’t the goal: it was to prevent the sin from being committed.
There’s a well-warranted fear that we may be reading the signs wrong and get into trouble later. But we have seen time and time again, shooting after shooting, that if we have the chance to take precaution we can help prevent these horrible tragedies.
We see this struggle in the parsha: when God saw that Pinchas’ goal was to help rather than to be a hero, God helped Pinchas aim his spear with such precision, it could only be an act of God (which it was). Those who take initiative based on good faith for physical signs can also do the same for psychological signs.
Pinchas is my hero. He is the epitome of justice, righteousness and law.
The best part is: we can all be Pinchas.
We only need to try.
Sara Aliza Judasin is a senior at Montclair State University.
By Sara Aliza Judasin