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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Pinchas

Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon Ha'kohen turned back My wrath from upon the Bnei Yisrael. (25:11)

Upon consideration, did Pinchas really have to act in such a drastic manner? He is lauded for avenging the honor of Hashem. Was there no other way to prevent Zimri from performing his reprehensible act of rebellion against Hashem? Could Pinchas not have chosen a less "final" -- and perhaps more conciliatory -- solution for the "Zimri" problem? This is the type of question that plagues those who do not quite understand the meaning of the term "kanai," zealot. Pinchas was not a reactionary who unleashed his uncontrollable anger, killing innocent people. He was not a religious maniac whose lack of discipline provoked him to resort to murder. No, Chazal teach us that "he saw the action (Zimri's act of harlotry) and (immediately) remembered the halachah that one who cohabits with a gentile, a zealous one may slay him." Pinchas viewed every question in life, every incident he confronted, through the eyes of halachah. He was a rational, peace-loving, man who responded to an incursion into the fiber of Judaism.

Conciliation and compromise do not comprise the halachic response for a bo'el Aramis, one who is intimate with a gentile. Had there been another approach, a less extreme punishment, something which would have satisfied all involved, Pinchas would clearly have taken such a route. Halachah, however, dictates death at the hands of a true zealot--and only at the hands of a true zealot.

Pinchas was an upholder of peace. We attribute this trait to him despite the fact that his action caused bloodshed. Peace with Hashem cannot be established upon the foundation of compromise or retreat. A responsible leader must confront, and subsequently, overcome all obstacles to peace. If this confrontation entails intervention on his part which might be characterized by some as intolerant or troublesome, then so be it. If people would only have greater insight into and respect for halachah, they might appreciate the actions of those who defend the purity of the Torah.

Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon Ha'kohen turned back My wrath from upon the Bnei Yisrael when he zealously avenged Me among them...Behold! I give him My covenant of Peace...And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood. (25: 11,12, 13)

Pinchas receives the ultimate reward--Kehunas olam--eternal priesthood. This blessing of everlasting priesthood was not bestowed upon anyone else. It was not bestowed neither upon Moshe the lawgiver, nor Aharon the Kohen, who was the paradigmatic peacemaker. Horav Moshe Swift, zl, notes that the blessing of continuity, the concept of uninterrupted service to Hashem, was neither a product of the service in the Mikdash nor the teaching in the Bais Ha'midrash. While these contribute to future development, they do not actually forge the links in the chain of continuity. They do not create a "lo ul'zaro acharav" for him and his offspring after him. That emanates from the morality, the purity and the integrity of the home.

Pinchas was aware of Bilaam's subterfuge. Bilaam was no fool. He realized that cursing the Jew, attempting to destroy him through hatred and persecution, has no lasting effect. Indeed, the uncouth gentile's virulent, blatant anti-Semitism frequently has a revitalizing effect on the Jew. Suddenly, everybody is proud of his heritage. Individuals who have not been inside a shul since they became bar mitzvah become the spokesmen for the entire Jewish people. The community rallies together in support and solidarity. Judaism is once again acceptable.

No, Bilaam knew that in order to destroy the Jew, he must focus on the home. A home that is spiritually destroyed has a lasting effect upon its inhabitants. A shul that is gutted only encourages greater participation. A home that is religiously burnt out, is one in which children are raised ignorant of their noble heritage. They are exposed to the filth that dominates our secular society and are permitted -- and at times even encouraged --- to maintain friendships with those of another faith. Their exposure to intermarriage, impurity and immorality does not receive vehement resistance. This is a home that will not produce everlasting Jewish offspring.

Bilaam understood this. He advised Balak to give the Jews the pagan girls to expose them to immorality, cognizant than idolatry would follow shortly thereafter. Bilaam was clever. He did not focus on the simple Jew, he did not bring his harlotry to the masses. He sought out Klal Yisrael's leadership. Once the leaders had fallen victim to the desires of the flesh, who would teach the masses? When the leaders are involved, who will reach out to the common Jew?

This type of sin that Bilaam propagated was unique in the sense that the punishment for its perpetration is not meted out by a court of law. This sin, this type of immorality, is so foreign to Jewish family life that its punishment is to be executed by zealots. The pious ones are those who are totally devoted to Hashem; those who understand the gravity of this brazen sin. These individuals realize that this incursion into the fiber of Jewish family life is not a sin against man or the community -- it is a sin against Hashem. Morality distinguishes the Jew from the rest of the world. To break down the purity of Jewish family life is to declare war on Hashem.

Pinchas cried out to the people, "How can you sin against Hashem?" He was jealous for Hashem's sake. Pinchas fought for family purity, for the morality and integrity of Jewish family life. He fought for Hashem. He was the man of peace. The covenant of generations of committed Jews is awarded to the one who fought to uphold the purity and chastity of Jewish family life.

Pinchas was the true man of peace. Sometimes in order to create peace, one must fight. The ever-ready peacemaker, the one who is accessible to all, who is tolerant and pliable, is not the one who is guaranteed peace. Tolerance has its shortcomings; peace has its price. The true peacemaker does not fear a fight when his conscience dictates it. Peace does not come from surrendering one's ideals or values in the name of unity. Everlasting peace, peace that is handed down from generation to generation, is one for which people are willing to fight. Peace takes courage, not cowardice. Peace takes firmness and stalwart commitment to ideals, not wavering, ineffectual commitment. How regrettable it is that some of us have confused tolerance with submission, flexibility with concession, and peace with surrender.

He was zealous for My sake in their midst...Because he was zealous for his G-d and made atonement for the Bnei Yisrael. (25:11,13)

What is the significance of the fact that Pinchas performed his act of zealousness "in their midst"? Sforno comments that Pinchas avenged Hashem's honor in the sight of all. Although they had originally seen Zimri's despicable act, and they did not protest, they could find atonement for not protesting against Pinchas. What Sforno is saying is that the masses were guilty of apathy. They witnessed blatant acts of harlotry and idolatry, yet they failed to object or to intervene. Their atonement would now be attained by permitting Pinchas to publicly carry out his act of zealousness. Sforno teaches us that apathy is almost as bad as the actual sin. When we permit others to flagrantly desecrate our heritage, to publicly debase the Torah and its mitzvos and to ridicule its disseminators, we are lending our support to their transgression. While it was not the masses who were guilty of the actual sin, they were, nonetheless, held in contempt for their indifference to the perpetrators. They received atonement by demonstrating that same "indifference" to Pinchas when he slew Zimri. One inaction atoned for another inaction.

We infer from here how far apathy can progress. It is one thing to look away from a sinner, but it is an entirely different matter to suppress he who is zealous enough to challenge those who desecrate the Torah. We offer various excuses. We are concerned about public opinion. It might be viewed as a chillul Hashem. We must make attempts at conciliation...The list goes on. Acts of zealousness are not appropriate for everyone to undertake. We must respect and applaud the work of those who are truly sincere and virtuous in protecting the Torah.

Once Horav Amram Blau, zl, who was the head of the Neturei Karta in Eretz Yisrael, went out on Shabbos to protest a soccer game that was being played in defiance of the holy day. People were desecrating sanctity of Shabbos; someone was obligated to take action to stop this public profanation of Hashem's Name. Alas, all Rav Amram received for his troubles were the bruises he suffered at the hands of the people he attempted to stop. Afterwards, he complained to the Satmar Rebbe, zl, regarding the small group of people that showed up for the protest, "Surely, had a larger group of Jews turned up to protest, we might have achieved greater success." The Satmar Rebbe responded jokingly, "You are lucky that your own compatriots did not come out against you." He cited the Sforno that demonstrates Klal Yisrael's apathy during the sin of Pe'or. A kanai must do what is right, but he should be aware that support for kanaus is very difficult to bolster. People tend to follow what is in vogue--even if it is wrong.

Yocheved, daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt. (26:59)

Yocheved was counted among the original seventy souls that accompanied Yaakov Avinu as he went down to Egypt. Horav Eli Munk, zl, in his commentary Kol Ha'torah, notes that Yocheved was placed at the core of this genealogy. He attributes this honor to her exceptional destiny. She married her nephew, Amram, a union that was legitimate only because the Torah had not yet been given. When Pharaoh decreed that all new-born Jewish boys be put to death, her husband divorced her. At the time, she was three months pregnant with Moshe. Her daughter Miriam, inspired by Ruach Ha'kodesh, convinced her father to remarry their mother. This guaranteed that Moshe would not be born into a broken home.

Yocheved died at the age of two hundred and fifty, shortly after she entered Eretz Yisrael. She had the nachas of watching her three children serve in leadership roles for Klal Yisrael. The dynasties of Kehunah and Malchus descended from her. Why? Why did she merit so much? We are taught that her merit was a result of her supreme devotion to her people when she and her daughter Miriam served as midwives for the early Jews in Egypt. They did not listen to Pharaoh's cruel decree to kill the baby boys. They risked their lives, courageously succeeding in foiling Pharaoh's decree.

If we just take a moment to think about this considerable reward, we will realize that this reward reflects the significance of the deed. The midwives risked their lives to bring Jewish children into a world that was cruel and dangerous, probably into a life of slavery, misery and persecution. Yet they received the greatest reward. We infer from this the enormous responsibility one has to bring Jewish children into the world--regardless of one's financial or social standing, whether one has a job or is still in school. Why is it that some of us place our trust in Hashem only when we think we have no alternative? What will wake people up to the realization that Hashem is there--always--for everything--regardless of the situation? Let us learn a lesson from this Jewish mother regarding a Jew's obligation to have a Jewish family and raise it according to Torah standards.

1. Why was it necessary to detail Pinchas' distinguished ancestry?
2. Why does the Torah emphasize Cosbi's lineage?
3. When the Jews took revenge on the Midyanites, why did they not also go to war against the Moavites?
4. What does the Torah mean when it says that Bnei Korach did not die?
5. Was the decree that all Jews who left Egypt would perish in the desert applicable also to the women?
6. Which of Yaakov's sons distinguished himself in his love for Eretz Yisrael?
7. During which year of Bnei Yisrael's sojourn in the wilderness did the Bnos Tzlafchad come before Moshe?

1. The tribes were ridiculing the fact that his maternal grandfather, Yisro, was at one time a pagan priest. They felt that this "tainted" him, motivating his act of "murder." Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that he descended from Aharon, who loved and pursued peace. Pinchas acted to uphold the peace of Klal Yisrael.
2. By demonstrating Cosbi's distinguished pedigree, the Torah implies the extent of the Midyanites' hatred for the Jews. They were even willing to debase the king's daughter in order to lead the Jews to sin. 3. The Moavites were spared in the merit of Rus, who would descend from them. 4. They did not receive the same eternal punishment as Korach and his assembly, because they repented at the end.
5. No
6. Yosef
7. During the fortieth year. Aharon was no longer alive

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