The Cosmic Compass

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Fate, Destiny and Free Will

In the Biblical book of Bamidbar/Numbers there is a story about how the Midianites tried to destroy the Hebrew people by having the Midianite women seduce the Hebrew men and draw them into idolatry.

This worked to some extent, and resulted in a plague which killed 24,000 people.

The plague was stopped when Pincus, Aaron, the High Priest’s, grandson, killed Zimri and Cosbi with one spear thrust.

Zimri was the head of the tribe of Shimon and Cosbi was a Midianite princess.

The Bible names these two people as follows: “The name of the slain Israelite man who was slain with the Midianitess was Zimri son of Salu, head of a father’s house of the Simeonites. And the name of the slain Midianite woman was Cozbi daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father’s house in Midian” (Bamidbar/Numbers 25:14-15).

The curious thing is the use of the double expression “the slain Israelite man who was slain” referring to Zimri, whereas the singular (and more logical) form is used for Cozbi: “the name of the slain Midianite woman”.

For me there is a similarity with the term “dead man walking”. When we use this phrase we are referring to someone who, while currently alive, has a very limited prospect of a future.

My understanding of this is that Zimri was destined to be slain in this way and so he is referred to as “the”.

As this was his destiny or fate, is there a way he could have avoided that?

The answer is “Yes” but it requires positive action, not simply avoiding a time and place.

The Talmud (the collection of Jewish laws and traditions) has the following story:
R. Akiba had a daughter. Astrologers told him that on the day she enters the bridal chamber a snake will bite her and she will die. He was very worried about this. On that day [of her marriage], she took a brooch [and] stuck it into the wall and by chance it penetrated [sank] into the eye of a serpent. The following morning, when she took it out, the snake came trailing after it. ‘What did you do?’ her father asked her. ‘A poor man came to our door in the evening.’ she replied, ‘and everybody was busy at the banquet, and there was none to attend to him. So I took the portion which was given to me and gave it to him. ‘You have done a good deed,’ said he to her. Thereupon R. Akiba went out and lectured: ‘But charity delivers from death’: and not [merely] from an unnatural death, but from death itself.” (Shabbat 165b)

What we see here is she was destined to die on the the night of her wedding but because she cared for someone else her fate was changed.

The take-away message from this is; there is fate and you have a destiny but that can be changed by doing good deeds.

Next time you give someone a hand or help them out, keep in mind that as well as helping them you are also helping yourself.

Remember, the life you save could be your own.