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Parsha Pinchas

07/05/2018 10:32:15 PM


The Parsha opens by rewarding Pinchas for his zealous act of killing Zimri while he was involved in relations with a Midanite woman, as God promises Pinchas a covenant of “peace” and a covenant of priesthood for him and his descendants.  The Torah stresses the lineage of Pinchas, writing “Pinchas- the son of Elazar the son of Aron Hakohen,” because, as the Gemara explains, the tribes were ridiculing Pinchas, saying, “Have you seen the descendant of Yisro whose mother’s father fattened calves for idol worship, and yet he killed a leader of one of the tribes of Israel?”  In order to combat this ridicule, the Torah emphasizes that Pinchas was also the grandson of Aron Hakohen.  What significance is there in the fact that Pinchas’s act was not met by public acclaim, and how is associating him together with Aron Hakohen an important piece of the story?  Moreover, why is PInchas’s act rewarded specifically with the gift of peace?

The Gemara in Zevachim cites three opinions regarding Pinchas’s evolvement to Priesthood.  One opinion is that he was not a Kohen until he was rewarded here for his act of Killing Zimri.  Another opinion is that he was always a Kohen, and his reward here was that all the future Kohanim Gedolim would descend only from his family.  The last opinion is that even after killing Zimri, Pinchas was only blessed by God to become a Kohen, but he only actually assumed the position of Kohen years later in the times of Yehoshua, when he heroically prevented a civil war.  After settling in Transjordan, the tribes of Reuven and Gad erected their own Altar, ostensibly to offer their own offerings, and when this infuriated the other 10 tribes in Israel, Pinchas acted as an intermediary between the two parties until peace was resolved.  Prior to seeing Pinchas act with such dedication to the value of peace, the nation simply would not accept Pinchas as a Kohen, but after this story, they finally acceded to allow Pinchas to act as a Kohen. 

Based on the last opinion, we gain some insight in the complexities of Pinchas’s act, why it was rewarded with gift of peace, and why it was not given public acclaim.  Acts of zealotry in general, and definitely the act of “Kanaav Pogim Bo”- the rule that a zealot may spontaneously kill a Jewish man having relations with a non-Jewish woman, are acts that can only be defined by their motives.  Pinchas did have the purest of motives, and as the Torah says, he first saw the act and only then picked up a spear to kill Zimri, but there are also people who constantly walk around with spears in their hands and look for stories through which to use their spears.  Because the difference in these acts is only inside of a person, public response is highly critical and disbelieving of pure motives, and even against Pinchas, they attributed his killing of Zimri to the fact that his family was cruel and sadistic to animals by killing them without good reason. While other good deeds are appreciated even if they lack the best of motives, violent and zealous acts are only appreciated together with their intentions, and they therefore are inevitably met by distrust and cynicism from the public.  They may possibly be acts of truths, but they are not acts of peace.  God traces Pinchas’s lineage to Aron Hakohen because Aron was the quintessential leader of peace, the man who placed primacy on peace and resolving conflicts between two parties.  Pinchas’s nature was really like Aron’s as he certainly did not walk around with a spear in hand, and he actually had to overcome his nature to kill Zimri and defend God’s honor.  This circumstance forced Pinchas to compromise his value of peace before the value of truth, and as he chose to kill Zimri, he was struggling between the eternal battle between peace and truth.  The blessing Pinchas received was that although here truth won over peace, peace could still remain a supreme value for Pinchas when he could act as a Kohen in achieving peace between the nation and God by bringing Korbanos.  How fitting it was that this blessing was only actualized when Pinchas brought peace to the fighting nation, because this was the way he proved that his motives had been pure all along, and that he was truly a man of peace who needed to perform an act of truth to defend God’s glory. 

There are two important lessons from this story- one is that life is an incessant struggle of balancing values that can never become absolute.  Making absolute values destroys autonomy, and values are really rules that must have exceptions, exceptions that will be defined by our choices.  The other important point here is that Pinchas’s zealous act of defending God was judged critically by the nation, to the extent that according to one opinion, it took years before he was accepted as a Kohen.  “Doing God’s work” is an important part of serving God, but a highly personal act that can be appreciated only by God and the person performing the act.  No one knows what is inside the head of someone else, and we should not expect our work to necessarily be met with compliments, because human nature will not see the purest motives in someone else’s work.   

Mon, November 29 2021 25 Kislev 5782