Too often religious zealousness and passion are seen as interchangeable. One can view the difference between the two as one views a knife. The knife can be an instrument of holiness or a tool for murder. As I have often taught, the voice of God is not so easily found in the concrete written word of holy scripture. As Elijah in our haftarah observes, “There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind… After the earthquake-fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft murmuring sound” (I Kings 19). We, as the prophet did, must strain to find God’s voice. Zeal represents uncontrolled anger and loud pronouncements. Passion, on the other hand, is a cultivation of the most meaningful experiences in your life, shaped to a larger purpose.
Does every disagreement have to be seen as a threat that necessitates radical action? Believing in one God does not require that we destroy others or their followers. A plurality of beliefs does not negate our own firmly held convictions.
Yehuda Eiger notes that parashat Pinchas is both preceded and followed by double portions – Chukat/Balak and Matot/Mas’ei – and he infers from this that fanatics must live alone in isolation from society. He concludes, “Woe to a generation when the fanatics are joined together!”