NUM322 The word zealous is defined in the dictionary as "filled with or inspired by intense enthusiasm or zeal; ardent; fervent." But the term zealot is also somewhat negatively defined as "fanatical or extreme adherence to a cause, especially a religious one." In The Biblical Hebrew, the same word is used for both jealousy and zealotry (Kana). In fact, the Greek origin for both words jealous and zealous is "Zelotes," which connotes "emulation, admirer, or follower." Are these two concepts connected? And if so, how? One commentary explains that zealousness is another form of positive jealousy -- jealousy for God, in which the zealot will defend God's name and honor whenever it is threatened (Pele Yo'etz on "Jealousy"). Pinchas is called a zealot by God (Numbers 11-13), as he is praised by the Almighty for killing two people who publicly worship idols, thereby desecrating God's name. Their actions brought about a plague upon the followers of the idol worship, while Pinchas' deed stopped the plague after 24,000 people were killed, and he is rewarded by God. Elijah is also called a zealot when he confronted the idol worshipers in his time (I Kings 19:10-14). Moses, too, was called a zealot by the sages, when he gathered the Levites to smite the three thousand idol worshipers of the Golden Calf (Midrash, Pesikta Rabbati 4:3). Like the jealousy describing God, it seems that zealotry on behalf of [God] in the Bible relates exclusively to idol worship. However, we also see that the commentators did not wholeheartedly support the notion of zealotry. Elijah seems to be castigated by God for being "too" jealous. In addition to the perpetual priesthood for all his descendants, Pinchas is given the gift of "Brit Shalom-Covenant of Peace." One modern commentary explains what this reward actually was and suggests that the quality of zealousness for God by Pinchas was appropriate in that particular instance, but only as a one-time act (Ha'aek Davar on Numbers 25:12). God was afraid that Pinchas might become emboldened by this action and use zealotry again in subsequent activities. God, therefore, changed the personality of Pinchas to make him a peaceful man (Covenant of Peace), never to use the trait of zealousness again. Thus, while zealousness and zealotry maybe appropriate in certain situations, it is not positive if it is an ongoing character trait. Later on in the Torah, when God commands the Jewish people to utterly destroy a city whose Jewish population was worshiping idols (Deuteronomy 13:13-17) -- an act of zealotry on behalf of God--the "reward" these destroyers received was the gift of mercy and peace from God, to ensure that this would be a one-time action only (Deuteronomy 13:18).
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