Pinchas ben Elozar ben Aharon HaKohen heishiv es chamasi me’al B’nei Yisroel b’kano es kinasi (25:11)
The mystics teach that through his actions, Pinchas atoned for the sin of Nadav and Avihu. The Chiddushei HaRim points out a number of similarities between these two incidents in which Pinchas corrected mistakes made by Nadav and Avihu.
The Gemora (Eiruvin 63a) teaches that Nadav and Avihu were punished for issuing a legal ruling in the presence of their teacher Moshe. Pinchas rectified this by specifically going to discuss his actions with Moshe before acting. The Torah (Vayikra 10:1) also teaches that Nadav and Avihu were punished for bringing an incense-offering which they weren’t commanded by Hashem to offer. Pinchas corrected this by doing an action which in a sense he wasn’t commanded to do. The Gemora (Sanhedrin 82a) teaches that such an act of zealotry may only be done by a person who knows the law on his own, as a Rabbi who is asked about the law may not instruct others to perform it.
Additionally, just as Nadav and Avihu gave up their lives for the dedication of the Mishkan, Pinchas also endangered his life when he entered Zimri’s tent to kill him, as Zimri could have easily attacked him first. The Chiddushei HaRim suggests that this is the reason that the laws of the sacrifices which are offered on the festivals are specifically taught in Parshas Pinchas. Just as Nadav and Avihu represented the first sacrifices in the Mishkan, Pinchas rectified their actions when he risked becoming a sacrifice for a proper purpose, and the laws of the offerings are therefore concluded in this parsha.
Pinchas ben Elozar ben Aharon HaKohen (25:11)
At the end of last week’s parsha, the Jewish people began to sin with the non-Jewish Midianites. Even Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, was caught up in transgressing. Anxious to stem the spread of the sin, Aharon’s grandson Pinchas publicly killed Zimri. Rashi writes that the Jewish people began to embarrass Pinchas. They questioned how a person whose maternal grandfather (Yisro) was an idolater could murder the leader of a tribe. Therefore, the Torah specifically emphasizes Pinchas’s paternal descent from Aharon.
The logic behind the Jews’ argument and Hashem’s response is difficult to grasp. If they knew the law that permitted Pinchas’s actions, why did they insult him? If they were unfamiliar with the law and viewed him as a cold-blooded murderer, of what benefit was it to point out his paternal lineage? In what way did it change the reality that one of his grandfathers served as a priest for idol-worship and that in their minds, he had killed the leader of a tribe without justification?
Rav Meir Shapiro explains that the value of a mitzvah is measured by the degree to which its performance runs counter to a person’s natural inclinations and therefore represents a greater test of his devotion to Hashem. The Jews attempted to minimize the greatness of Pinchas’s actions not by insinuating that he was a cold-blooded killer, but by hinting that it had come easy to him because his grandfather cruelly killed animals as part of his idol-worship.
The Torah therefore emphasizes that this act was performed with great difficulty and internal resistance. Pinchas’s natural instincts came not from his allegedly merciless maternal grandfather, but from his paternal grandfather Aharon, a man whose entire life was dedicated to the pursuit of peace. The Lekach Tov derives from here the importance of adapting ourselves to the Torah and not attempting to interpret the Torah’s laws in light of our personal preferences, a lesson illustrated by the following story.
A person once remarked to Rav Yitzchok Hutner that the performance of certain mitzvos is too difficult for him since they run counter to his nature and he is unable to change. Rav Hutner responded by likening the man’s argument to the case of a motorist speeding down the highway who suddenly sees flashing lights in his rear-view mirror. He pulls over, and the policeman approaches and asks why he was driving 83 mph on a highway with a speed limit of 50.
The man foolishly answers that he did nothing wrong, as the car was set to cruise control and he wasn’t even the one driving at that speed. The officer dismisses his specious defense by noting that he was the one to initially set the cruise control to an illegal speed. Similarly, when a person comes before the Heavenly Court and attempts to justify his ways by noting that certain mitzvos ran counter to his very essence, he will have a difficult time explaining who was responsible for creating within himself a nature which runs counter to the Torah.
While every person has different mitzvos that specifically challenge him, the Mishnah in Avos teach that the strong person is one who conquers his evil inclination (4:1) and that the harder a mitzvah is for a person, the greater will be his reward for doing it (5:22), a lesson we should learn from the eternal covenant of peace that Hashem gave to Pinchas for acting counter to his peaceful nature.
Vayomer Hashem el Moshe kach lecha es Yehoshua bin Nun is hasher ruach bo v’samachta es yad’cha alav (27:18)
As the end of Moshe’s life began to approach, Hashem commanded him to appoint his disciple Yehoshua to succeed him. Why wasn’t Pinchas, the righteous “hero” of the parsha, selected to take over the leadership after Moshe’s death? In risking his life for the sake of the nation, didn’t he display the extent of his dedication and commitment to them and to his beliefs, valuable traits for a successful leader to possess?
The following story will help us answer these questions. The Gemora (Shabbos 33b) records that because of disparaging comments he had made, the non-Jewish government decreed that Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai should be executed. He fled with his son, Rebbi Elozar, to hide in a cave. For 12 years, Hashem miraculously provided them with food and drink, and they spent the entire day engrossed in the study of Torah.
After twelve years, Hashem sent Eliyahu HaNavi to announce at the opening of the cave that the person who made the decree had died, and Rebbi Shimon’s life was safe. Rebbi Shimon and his son emerged to see the light of day for the first time in more than a decade. While they spent this time climbing to great spiritual heights, the rest of the world continued in its more mundane fashion.
When Rebbi Shimon and Rebbi Elozar saw men “wasting” their time on what they viewed as frivolous non-spiritual pursuits like plowing and planting, the Rabbis looked at them with such anger and disdain that the farmers were immediately burned by a mystical fire. A Divine voice called out, “Have you left the cave to destroy My world?” Rebbi Shimon and his son returned to study Torah in the cave for another year.
At the end of the year, they left the cave. The results were similar, but with one crucial difference. When Rebbi Elozar saw people engaging in earthly matters, he again burned them with his wrath. This time, Rebbi Shimon looked at them and healed them, explaining to his son, “It’s enough for the world that you and I exist.” One Friday afternoon, they saw a man carrying two bundles of sweet-smelling myrtle in honor of Shabbos. Recognizing the devotion of Jews to mitzvos, they were both pacified.
This episode is difficult to understand. If the initial 12 years in the cave placed such a divide between Rebbi Shimon and the rest of the world, how did an additional year in the cave solve the problem when it should have only exacerbated it? The commentators explain that the additional year brought Rebbi Shimon to true greatness: the ability to understand and relate to those who aren’t on his level and to appreciate them for their good qualities, such as their dedication to honoring Shabbos.
In light of this explanation, we can appreciate the answer given by the Kotzker Rebbe to our original question. The very fervor and passion demonstrated by Pinchas, while appropriate at that time, rendered him ineligible to serve as the national leader. Rashi writes (27:16) that Moshe requested a successor who would be able to understand that every person has his own individual foibles and needs, and who would be able to patiently bear the burden of interacting with each person and his idiosyncrasies. Pinchas’s passionate devotion to truth and righteousness served him well, but would have made him an ineffective leader who was unable to understand and interact with each person on his own unique level.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Which two people who were related had portions in the Torah named after them? (Zohar HaKadosh Balak 197a, Lim’chaseh Atik)
2) Which book of Tanach was co-authored by Pinchas? (Bava Basra 15a)
3) Rashi writes (27:1) that the Torah specifically emphasizes that the ancestry of the daughters of Tzelafchad extended back to Yosef to teach that their love of the land of Israel, in which they demanded to inherit their father’s portion, had its origins in Yosef’s love of Israel, to which he insisted on having his bones brought for burial. What love was displayed by their insistence to actually own a portion of the land when they would merit entering the land regardless, as opposed to Yosef, who had to request to be brought into Israel? (Darash Moshe)
4) There are 4 episodes in the Torah in which the applicable law was hidden from Moshe and he was forced to ask Hashem to rule: the daughters of Tzelafchad, Pesach Sheini, the blasphemer, and the gatherer of wood on Shabbos. In the first two cases, he immediately asked Hashem to clarify the situation, while in the latter two he incarcerated the sinners and waited until the following day to inquire of Hashem. Why was there such a difference in Moshe’s response? (Nesivos Rabboseinu)
5) Are the laws of inheritance considered “chukim,” laws whose reason is hidden from us and which we perform solely because Hashem command us, or “Mishpatim,” laws which we are able to logically understand on some level? (Rabbeinu Bechaye 9:8, Malbim Ayeles HaShachar)
© 2009 by Oizer Alport.