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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Pinchas

Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon Hakohen, turned back My wrath from you Bnei Yisrael. When he zealously avenged Me among them. (25:11)

Pinchas acted on behalf of the Almighty. He reacted with jealousy and with vengeance, as he witnessed Zimri publicly desecrating Hashem's Name. Rashi emphasizes the word, "kinaasi," "My jealousy/wrath". Pinchas reacted in the same manner that Hashem would have. He became angry as Hashem would. Hashem's anger was his anger; he accepted Hashem's "hurt" as his own hurt. Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, delves into the concept of "kinaasi" in an attempt to explain its significance. We find that Rashi previously had mentioned that the tribes, especially Shevet Shimon, were criticizing and demeaning Pinchas for his descent from a Midyanite priest, namely Yisro. They would say , "Look how this one, whose grandfather fattened calves for idolworship, has had the audacity to slay a Nasi." For this reason, the Torah traces Pinchas' lineage back to Aharon, underlining his holy pedigree. We may wonder why they focused on the "pitum," fattening of the calves? What about the other aspects of avodah zarah, idol worship, areas that are more involved with the actual worship? Why did they pick on an area of worship that for the most part is only a hachanah, preparation, for the real thing?

Horav Ezrachi explains that they sought to demean Pinchas even more. Not only did his grandfather worship idols, his devotion and love for them was overwhelming. He even fattened calves, so that they would be a better sacrifice. His commitment to idolworship was to the point of zealousness. Those who denigrated Pinchas were emphasizing a point. Pinchas' zealousness was an inherited trait. This was a family characteristic. His maternal grandfather possessed a similar sort of zealousness - for idols.

Hashem writes in His Torah that, while Pinchas did inherit an overwhelming sense of commitment to a goal, his objective was different from his grandfather's: his zealousness was for "kinaasi", "My jealousy". Pinchas was totally committed; he was zealously devoted - to Hashem. The zealousness itself is not significant. Rather, the importance lies in the ideological posture behind it. There are all types of zealots; their goal determines the holiness of their mission. Hashem attested to the integrity of Pinchas' objective.

Therefore, say "behold, I give him My covenant -- the peace." (25:12)

Pinchas received his reward from Hashem - the covenant of peace. He represents peace. Chazal tell us that Pinchas is Eliyahu Ha'navi, the harbinger of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. Pinchas' bold action on behalf of Hashem earned him the privilege of becoming the bearer of the Divinely inspired peace on earth. We are taught that the "vav" in the word shalom is broken in half, so that it must be written in two parts. Horav Shlomo Breuer, zl, interprets this as a characterization of the lofty task of every Jewish leader, whose goal in life is to bring about the peace for which Hashem yearns.

In the account of Creation, regarding the second day, the Torah says, "There should be a spreading sky in the midst of the water, and it should divide between water and water." Upon the completion of every other phase of Creation, the Torah says "And G-d saw that it was good." Regarding the second day, it does not say "ki tov," "It was good. " Why? Chazal explain that on this day the concept of separation was established. A day which brought division -- and the possibility of contention -- into the world cannot be described as "ki tov." This is enigmatic. Did not a division take place also on the first day, as Hashem separated between light and darkness? Yet, the "ki tov" imprimatur was in effect. What is the difference?

Horav Breuer explains that on the second day the division was of greater significance than on its predecessor. On the second day, the division occurred between water and water, two like- substances, identical in both character and nature. Although this division was essential and constructive to the process of Creation, the Divine record omits the "ki tov," for a separation between "water" and "water" -- as applied to human beings -- can never be a positive occurrence. Two like species, two people of similar backgrounds, should not be divided. Such an act can only bring negative results. A division between light and darkness, however, which is ordained by the Creator, is labeled with the "ki tov" stamp. Relating to our lives, this qualification intimates a powerful admonition. When light and darkness, truth and falsehood, are unified, when they are indiscriminately mixed together, it is a grave cause for concern. Indeed, at such a juncture, a clear separation, in order to preserve the light and to salvage the truth, becomes a moral obligation of the greatest urgency.

A Jewish leader is one who fights for peace. He exerts all of his efforts to combat the forces of darkness who would undermine Hashem's truth. Only then is he acting in the spirit of Pinchas.

The fight of the Jewish leader must have one overriding goal - to achieve the peace - a shalom, peace, whose "vav" is broken, written in two pieces. The vav connects, but it also divides. While there is nothing as desirable as unifying all factions of the Jewish people, a separation of sorts is essential when the unification of conflicting philosophies can be achieved only at the expense of the Divine truth. Shalom must never be permitted to jeopardize the sheleimus, harmonious totality, of Jewish life which can only be effected under the direction of the Torah. He who seeks to promote true peace must be prepared to fight for the supremacy of Torah. Ultimate peace can, and will, only be achieved when we have the courage to stand resolute and unwavering against those who abuse and deny the veracity of Torah dictate.

The lack of harmony among our own people is nothing short of tragic. Unity requires true leadership, the leadership of a Pinchas/Eliyahu whose mandate it is "to return the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers." To effect a lasting unity among the various segments of Klal Yisrael requires an individual with courage, with resolution, with love for every Jew, regardless of his or her background or affiliation. Simultaneously, it takes enormous courage to close the door on those whose sole intent it is to undermine and destroy Torah Judaism. Only then will the covenant of peace become a reality.

Therefore say, "behold, I give him My covenant -- the peace. (25:12)

The Targum Yonasan says that Hashem granted Pinchas transcendence over death. He was transformed into Eliyahu Ha'navi, who will be the harbinger of the Final Redemption. Indeed, the Zohar Hakadosh writes that the Angel of Death has no dominion over he who is for the Name of Hashem, as he does over the average human being. Obviously, this statement has a deeper meaning than meets the eye. Why was Pinchas selected for this unique position? Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, cites a pasuk in this parsha (27:16) in which Moshe asks Hashem to appoint his successor, "May Hashem, G-d of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in." What is the meaning of the phrase, "Who shall go out before them, and come in before them?" In the Sefer Bais Yitzchak, the author cites Rabbi Moshe Mendel who explained this according to an interpretation of Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, regarding the Talmudic dictum : "the generation during which Moshiach will come, (will be one that) young people will humiliate their elders,... and the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog." In other words, in the "end of the days," people will manifest a lack of respect for those who deserve respect. What is the meaning of the analogy "to the face of a dog"? Rav Yisrael explained that usually when a caravan travels along a new route, or when someone must go on a trip along an unchartered path, he/they will select a guide to lead them, to show them where to go. The guide will travel in front, followed by the caravan. A dog also runs before his master, even though he does not know in which direction his master is going. He will , therefore, always look back to see if he is "leading" along the correct path. The guide knows where he is going, and the people follow. In contrast, the dog does not really lead, since he always looks back to see if he is going the way his master wants.

Jewish leaders should determine the correct path for their congregation, without seeking confirmation. They decide, and the people should follow. Otherwise, they are not leaders. They are similar to the dog who runs forward, always looking back for approval, making sure he his going the right way. Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem for a leader who would "go out before them," "who would take them out." He sought someone who was not afraid to make a decision, who would not vacillate indecisively waiting for his lay leadership's confirmation of "his" decision. He sought a leader who would lead, who would guide, who would teach and direct Klal Yisrael along the correct path.

Hashem responded with one name, "a man in whom there is spirit," one in whom there is the spirit of G-d, who will know how to treat each person according to his own spirit. He would be a man who possesses a strong spirit, who would not concern himself with the various trends and social issues that would not necessarily coincide with Torah perspective. He would stand prepared to defend the Torah against usurpers and have the courage to uphold its precepts regardless of the opposition. This man was Yehoshua.

Pinchas possessed a similar character. His devotion to Hashem was uncompromising; his determination to uphold the Torah was resolute. When an incursion against Hashem took place, he did not care who acted in rebellion, what was his social standing, the degree of his support, his family pedigree, personal wealth, or erudition. Pinchas cared not what they would say about him at the time, whether he would be scorned or humiliated: nor did he concern himself with what they would later write. He cared not for his personal safety or well-being. His overriding concern was the truth -- the truth of Torah. Such a person would be the appropriate leader, to serve as harbinger for Moshiach Tzidkeinu and the Final Redemption.

Otzar Chaim sites Rav Mendel M'vitebsk, zl, who makes an intriguing statement. When Moshe saw the incredible reward that Pinchas received as a result of his kanaus, zealousness, he was concerned that zealousness was to become the criteria for leadership. He, therefore, requested of Hashem, "You are the G-d of all spirits - those generations of Jews yet to be born. There will be so many different types of people during various stages of our People's development. There will be various cultures, social scenes, internal and external pressures, which will affect our people. Please, Hashem, choose a leader who will be sensitive to these issues and to the different personalities. Choose a leader who will understand the nature of the sinner, who will not grab a spear and destroy someone the moment he sins." These are powerful words.

Indeed, the Midrash implies that Yehoshua was chosen because of his conciliatory ability. Does this mean that kanaus, zealousness, is inappropriate -- while passiveness and conciliation are appropriate? Are we to disregard flagrant incursions against our Torah and its disseminators? Is this a suggestion that we are to scrutinize -- even criticize -- Pinchas' courageous act ? Did Pinchas lack sensitivity? We suggest that in no way is Pinchas's act to be critiqued. There is definitely a time and place for kanaus -- which is something to be determined by a gadol, preeminent Torah scholar and leader. When an act of denigration of such magnitude occurs, and its perpetrator is none other than a Nasi, Prince of Klal Yisrael, a leader of a tribe, where the possibility of creating a terrible influence exists, kanaus is the only recourse. Pinchas averted the tragedy of a nation which accepted, and was influenced by, Zimri's public defamation of Hashem's Name. When leadership sins, when leaders make a travesty of Hashem's Torah, they must be stopped. They must be exposed for what they really are. While the kanai will certainly be criticized, his courage will put a halt to the poison spewed by the "Zimris" of their generations.

The name of the slain Yisrael man who was slain with the Midyanites was Zimri ben Salu, leader of a father's house of the Shimoni. (25:14)

Interestingly, in the previous parsha, when the Torah narrates the actual episode and Zimri's flagrant act of licentiousness, it does not mention the identity of the perpetrators. Only now -- after Pinchas acted and Zimri has been executed -- is the identity of Zimri publicized. Why is this? Why is it that after Zimri has been slain, and Pinchas has received his reward, the Torah reveals who Pinchas killed? Rashi seems to address this question by saying that when the Torah records the name of the tzaddik, Pinchas, for praise, it also mentions the name of the evil perpetrator -- for shame. This still demands explanation. What relationship is there between the humiliation of the sinner and the glorification of the saint?

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh addresses this question, and responds that the Torah conveys to us the dictum, "A Jew, even if he has sinned, is still a Jew." The name Yisrael, the appellation that denotes membership in the Chosen People, does not dissipate as a result of sin. This concept is indicated by the words, "the name of the slain Yisrael" - emphasizing his nationhood. Every Jew has a spark of kedushah, holiness, emanating from Above, the Source of all kedushah. Although one sins, the spark of kedushah is never severed from its source. It has to be cleansed; the taint must be expunged. The kedushah, however, remains intact. By slaying Zimri, Pinchas eradicated the taint on Zimri's soul, allowing for his death to serve as his penance. He was now once again an "ish Yisrael." This applied only after he received his punishment. His name is mentioned in Parashas Pinchas, the parsha that follows the sin - and its consequences.


1) Who was Pinchas' maternal grandfather?
2) Which famous woman descended from Moav?
3) Which woman, who originally came to Egypt with Yaakov Avinu, was still alive during the current census?
4) Moshe demanded that Yehoshua's leadership be dependent upon his ability to cope with the people. What did he mean?
5) a) How many hands was Moshe to use when making Semichah on Yehoshua?
b) How many did he use?
6) What benefit did the gentile nations derive from the sacrifice of the seventy cows during Succos?


1) Yisro
2) Rus
3) Serach bas Asher
4) Yehoshua would have to exhibit a tremendous amount of patience in dealing with a nation, among whom were people who were demanding, and complained excessively.
5) a) One.
b) Two.
6) The seventy cows represented the seventy gentile nations. The sacrifices protected these nations from affliction.


Sponsored by
Moshe Shimon and Tibor Rosenberg
in memory of their father
Pinchas ben Shimon Rosenberg


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