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At the end of Parshat Balak we get the following sequence:

  • The people, en masse it appears, go after Ba'al Peor.
  • God tells Moshe to execute all the leaders in response.
  • Moshe tells the judges to kill everyone in their jurisdictions who sinned with Ba'al Peor.
  • Zimri, a leader within Shimon, defies all this right there in front of the Ohel Moed and Pinchas takes action.

This leaves me wondering how Zimri survived as long as he did. According to this answer, Rashi citing Yerushalmi says the judges carried out those executions, though the Ramban says they didn't. If they did, how did they miss Zimri? Or did Zimri sin only after all these events -- he'd been faithful up until then but then something happened to him? Or is Zimri's survival until then evidence that the executions didn't happen?

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Zimri didn't do anything wrong until after the sentencing.

See the way the narrative is explained here (Kehot Chumash with interpolated Translation Bamidbar 25:4-6) :

  1. The offenders from the tribe of Simeon then approached one of their princes, Zimri son of Salu, and complained, “We are being sentenced to death! Why don’t you do something to defend us?” So this Israelite man, Zimri son of Salu,came from this call to action, assembled 24,000 Israelites, and went with them to Kozbi, the daughter of Tzur, the chief king of the Midianite confederation, and told her to come with him.
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He made a big show of it. It seems that everyone was sort of stunned by Zimri's words and actions; Moshe himself was shocked into forgetting what to say after a bout of mudslinging (Zimri accused Moshe of marrying a Midianite woman himself, so how could he prohibit Kozbi?) Also since Zimri was a nasi beis av, that could have helped him--Pinchas was the only one not afraid of his status and only afraid of G-d. By the way, it's not so "en masse"--if you look at the numbers of who was killed during the plague (=who sinned), it's a small fraction of the nation. Most were just bystanders implicated by their lack of zealotry.

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya Liz! Thanks for the answer; in general we encourage sources, even for things that may seem well known. What is well known to one user, may not be to another. – mevaqesh Jul 17 '16 at 21:54
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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya. Are you saying that he should have been executed by the judges (i.e. he was already guilty) but his position protected him, until he acted so publicly and Pinchas reacted? Is this your reasoning or is this something you've heard/read? If the latter, you could improve this answer by editing in a source. Thanks. – Monica Cellio Jul 17 '16 at 22:41

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