Parshat Pinchas - Living in the Ideal

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By Shoshana Rosa

In this week's parsha, Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon Hakohen (the high priest), follows in Aharon's footsteps and history declares them both chasers of peace. However, between the two men, the desire for peace expressed itself differently. While Aharon made peace by mediating between battling friends, spouses etc., Pinchas reestablished peace by killing the enemy and winning the war. 

In last week's Parshat Balak, Balak hired Bil'am to curse the Jewish nation. When their plan did not come to fruition, however, he decided to entice the Jewish males with the women of Midyan. This way, G-d would be upset with them and remove their divine protenction. Once the young ladies had enticed the Jewish men, the Midyanites threw a party and convinced the men to serve their idol, Ba'al Paor. To make matters worse, the tribe of Shimon's leader decided to marry Kazbi the princess of Midyan. Hashem "lost His temper" and struck the Jews with a plague; people began dying in droves. 

Bil'am declared plan B a success.

Meanwhile, Israel's leaders were floored. They ran to Moshe for advice. "How do we proceed?" they begged. "People are dropping like flies." Moshe did not answer. Pinchas, the zealot, grabbed a spear, charged into the midst of Shimon's tribe, entered their leader, Zimri's, tent and killed both man and wife. Like thunder following lightning, the epidemic came to a screeching halt.  

At this point, one might protest, "That lofty ideal, peace, cannot be obtained by violent means." Remember that in some cases the only choice is fighting fire with fire. How did Pinchas's quick thinking demonstrate that this was the only means of action available at the time?   

In the first verse of Parshat Pinchas [post the event] G-d says, "Pinchas has steered My anger away from the Jews by his avenging Me among them zealously so that I would not have to avenge Myself [in a fashion far worse than Pinchas's]" (Numbers 25:11). G-d compliments Pinchas by declaring his actions as those of the ideal zealot. According to the Torah, contrary to popular belief, a kana'i (zealot) is not your average hothead looking to stir the masses into frenzy. The Jewish zealot is a calm, calculated man, interested in sanctifying G-d's name. 

Yet how can one be sure Pinchas acted solely for heaven's sake? In the first verse, the yud (the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet and also one of the four letters in one of Hashem's names which represents divine mercy) in the name Pinchas is minimized to show that he was not killing out of personal vendetta. He saw people profaning G-d's word because they saw their leader consorting with a strange nation's princess and he took action. Nor did he expect to live long enough to tell the tale. One cannot rush into the midst of 50,000 people, assassinate their leader and not call it a suicide mission. 
G-d rewarded Pinchas by bestowing him with the title of kohen (priest). Since Pinchas jumped at the chance to act as a beacon of light directing the Jews back to truth, he became worthy of a job that centered around revealing G-d on a daily basis. 

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch interprets this reward as a sort of slap on the back from G-d. If not for Pinchas's quick thinking, Hashem would have been forced to take matters into His own hands. In other words, that would've been the end of us.

The incident between ZimriKaszbi and Pinchas can be seen as a paradigm for the times in history when Bnei Yisrael (the Jews) splattered G-d's law on the walls, so to speak, G-d needed a champion to stand up for His honor and although G-d can hardly be termed a damsel in distress, our existence demands that G-d be granted at least one man from among His nation who can remind the others that His word is law. Otherwise, we run the gamut of endangering the very existence of the Jewish people.

According to some commentaries, Pinchas was also granted another 200 years of life for his brave deed. Still others claim that he was gifted with immortality. When you live your ideals with the stubbornness of a stone wall, your ideals and teachings live on too. Our rabbis of blessed memory say,"Even after death, the righteous are called 'alive' since their teachings are passed down through the generations." Stick to your guns. 

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