We read in Parashat Pinchas of God’s command to Benei Yisrael to wage war against the nation of Midyan to avenge that nation’s role in the calamity of Ba’al Pe’or. The Torah in this context makes mention of the Midyanite princess, Kozbi, who was sent to engage in a public relationship with a prominent figure among Benei Yisrael – Zimri, the leader of Shimon – as part of the scheme of Ba’al Pe’or. Kozbi is described here as “Kozbi, the daughter of the chieftain of Midyan, their sister” (25:18).
The Mekhilta (to Shemot 15:20) finds it significant that Kozbi is referred to here as the Midyanites’ “sister.” Normally, women of a nation are known as “daughters” of that nation. Kozbi, however, is given the unusual honor of being described as the “sister” of the nation of Midyan. Intuitively, we might have explained that Kozbi was given this title because of her royal stature, being the daughter of one of Midyan’s five chieftains. The Mekhilta, however, offers a much different reason, stating that she is called the Midyanites’ “sister” because “she devoted her soul for her nation.” She was selflessly devoted to her nation, going to so far as to surrender her body and dignity for the sake of Midyan’s goal of subduing Benei Yisrael, and so she was called the “sister” of the Midyanites. The Mekhilta makes this observation concerning others, as well, such as Shimon and Levi, who are called “the brothers of Dina” because of their bold, daring response to her abduction (Bereishit 34:25).
Remarkably, even as Kozbi committed a despicably immoral act – prostituting herself for the sake of luring Benei Yisrael to sin and bringing God’s anger upon them – Chazal identified a positive quality that was manifested at this moment. As evil as her act was, Chazal found her devotion to her nation worthy of being noted, and something for which she deserved some sort of respect.
The Tolna Rebbe pointed to this passage in the Mechilta as an inspiring example of the extent to which we ought to recognize and appreciate the positive qualities of all people, including the seemingly insignificant good deeds they perform. If our Sages could find something to admire about Kozbi as she perpetrated such a contemptible offense, we are certainly capable of focusing our attention on the positive attributes of the people in our lives and of our fellow Jews. Each and every good deed is something inestimably valuable and precious, and worthy of our esteem. We are bidden to follow Chazal’s example and try to focus as much as possible on all that is noble and admirable about other people, rather than assessing people with a critical eye.