Shabbat Parashat Pinchas| 5767
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Adapting the Grandfather’s Fervor - From a sicha on Parashat Hashavua, 5716 - Courtesy of R. Yisrael Sharir
The majority of our parasha deals with the preparations to enter Eretz Yisrael. These include a census of men of army age, instructions for dividing and settling the Land, the laws of inheritance, the appointment of Yehoshua as Moshe’s successor, and the addition of korbanot that were not in practice during the stay in the desert. An apparent exception to this trend is the completion of the story of Pinchas, which was discussed mainly in last week’s parasha. Pinchas rose up from the congregation, while witnessing Zimri’s public promiscuity and challenge to Moshe, and reacted zealously by killing him and his partner. The Torah stresses Pinchas’ genealogy as a grandson of the distinguished and peace-loving Aharon. Chazal tell us that this was necessary because members of Bnei Yisrael decried his behavior, saying: “Did you see this one whose mother’s father used to sacrifice calves to idol worship and he kills the leader of a tribe in Israel?”
We should understand that the criticism of Pinchas had some apparent merit. Is it right to kill with an outburst of anger, to carry out a punitive execution without a trial, a judge, or deliberation? Is it not rare for even Sanhedrin to execute someone once in seven years? Pinchas seemed to follow the blood line of his idol worshipping ancestors, not his peace-loving grandfather, Aharon. Therefore, it was necessary for Hashem to publicize Pinchas’ connection to Aharon and award him with a covenant of peace. The Torah thus teaches us that Pinchas’ actions were not a contradiction to his predecessor’s legacy; on the contrary, they were a continuation of it. The same holy enthusiasm and willingness for self-sacrifice that exemplified Aharon’s pursuit of peace was employed by Pinchas under different circumstances as the fire of zealousness to root out the evil in Israel.
Only a superficial perspective on the Divine Attributes sees a contradiction between Hashem’s portrayal as a merciful G-d and that of a zealous and retributive G-d. There is no contradiction. The zealousness and retribution are necessary to preserve the mercy. Without them, the attribute of mercy would be usurped as a cover for any sinner or murderer to fulfill his soul’s sordid desires without the fear of consequences. Pinchas, in his own way, provided protection for the nation, which was as important as Aharon’s peace promoting activities.
This lesson fits in well with the rest of the parasha, which took place during a respite between the battles against Sichon and Og on the eastern bank of the Jordan and the battles against the seven nations in Eretz Yisrael proper. One should not think that a mockery is being made of a Torah that preaches mercy and compassion yet commands to fight and kill the inhabitants of the Land who do not agree to vacate it. These wars were not like those of bloodthirty nations. Rather the army that carried them out was the army of Hashem and their war was the war of Hashem to stamp out evil from the Land. Therefore, the apparent acts of cruelty were really acts of zealousness to preserve an eternal, true peace.
Hundreds of years later, Eliyahu Hanavi expressed similar fervor to protect the Nation of Israel. “I have certainly been zealous to Hashem, G-d of the Hosts, for Bnei Yisrael have forsaken His covenant” (Melachim I, 19:14). The license to act with such zealous fervor is one that is reserved for a choice few in every generation. It is also that which ensures that the chain and covenant of the generations will be preserved and never, Heaven forbid, be broken.
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Hemdat Yamim is dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois
in loving memory of Max and Mary Sutker and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.
May their memory be a blessing.