Pinchas - G-d's Partner
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Pinchas's zealous yet brutal act of courage was rewarded with G-d's
covenant of peace. "Therefore, I am granting him My Covenant of Peace."
(25:12) Generally, the Torah does not state the reward for individual acts
of devotion and heroism. When the Torah makes the exception it is intended
that we glean from the reward a greater understanding of the initiating
good-deed. Just as Punishments are "a measure for a measure," so too
rewards are a measure for a measure. Reward must fit the deed just as
punishment must fit the crime.
The beginning of this week's Parsha is among the few places in the Torah
where G-d immediately stated the reward for an individual act of
self-sacrifice and devotion. 1. Avraham after the binding of Yitzchak; 2.
Kalev after the Spies; 3. and the end of last week's Parsha with Pinchas's
act of zealousness at Baal Peor. However, with Pinchas the reward was
different than the others. His reward was a Covenant. Pinchas's reward was
G-d's Covenant of Peace.
Avraham was progenitor of the nation; therefore, his reward reflected the
future of his children and their development into a nation. "Because you
did not withhold your son from Me… I will bless you, increase your
children as the stars in the heaven…" (Bereishis 22:17)
Kalev was given the city of Hebron as reward for his act of devotion and
courage. It was a magnificent statement of G-d's personal pleasure in
Kalev's personal devotion and it was a reward that was unique to Kalev and
However, Pinchas was given G-d's Covenant of Peace. A covenant is a deal
between two parties. G-d made a covenant with the Forefathers when He
promised that their children would inherit Eretz Yisroel and receive His
Torah. He made a covenant with the Jews when He gave them the Torah and
commanded them to be His Chosen People. However, in this instance G-d made
a covenant with an individual. It suggests a partnership between G-d,
Pinchas, and Pinchas's children in accomplishing G-d's intentions for
creating the universe and appointing the Jews as His kingdom of priests and
Why was Pinchas's zealousness so important that G-d rewarded him with a
I would like to suggest that the sin of Baal Peor, Pinchas's zealousness,
and G-d rewarding him with the Covenant of Peace are interrelated. The sin
motivated the zealousness and the Covenant of Peace was both a reward for
Pinchas as well as a Tikun - corrective measure for Baal Peor.
As the Jews neared the end of their time in the desert they were
understandably focused on the future. The changes they would encounter
would be profound and far-reaching. There would be warfare and the need for
diplomacy. The nation would decentralize and spread throughout the land.
Homes would have to be built and the infrastructure of a nation would have
to be developed. Miriam and Aharon had died and Moshe would not live to
take them into the Promised Land. A new leader and administration would
take over and G-d's overt caring would be curtailed and hidden within the
workings of nature. At best they were a loose confederacy of families
united by familial ties yet primarily devoted to their own individual
tribes. At worse they were twelve independent mini-nations who could easily
fall into a power struggle for control of the country and the nation.
The only guarantee for a successful transition into the Promised Land was
their personal and collective commitment to the covenant at Mt. Sinai and
the history of the Forefathers. The Torah was their deed of purchase as
well as their code of laws. However, enforcement was left up to G-d. That
is why the period of the Shoftim (Judges) following Yehoshua's reign up
until Shmuel the Prophet and the establishment of the monarchy is presented
as, "The time when the judges were judged." (Ruth 1:1) It was a time when
"each person did as he saw fit." The difficulties were predictable and the
end of the 40 years had to have generated as much concern and anxiety as it
did excitement and anticipation.
As the Jews contemplated the future they began to emotionally and
psychologically seek independence from G-d. It was inevitable. As it was,
their dependency upon Moshe and G-d was (and is) their greatest challenge.
With the death of Miriam and Aharon, with the removal of the well and the
cloud cover, with Moshe's impending death, the Jews felt they had to take
charge of their own destiny. The fact that the daily miracles were
beginning to stop proved to them that their relationship with G-d was
undergoing changes. Of course, they were wrong. Just the opposite! The
lesson of the desert was that G-d's presence is everywhere and whether
bread falls from heaven or is the product of planting, harvesting, milling,
and baking, it is all G-d's doing. However, because the fundamental human
challenge is to recognize G-d's primacy and humble our own, the Jews failed
and began to "take charge."
The Jews had already tasted battle and victory. Sichon, Og, and Amalek had
all fallen. At the same time, Moshe had made overtures to Edom and Moab.
All the nations encountered in last week's two Parshios Chukas and Balak
were not from the seven nations occupying the land of Israel. They were
neighboring nations who had a choice to either support the Jews as allies
or align themselves against the Jews as enemies. Unfortunately for them,
they chose the later, and as Billam prophesized, eventually disappeared
within the pages of history.
Balak's attempt at destroying the Jews was a last desperate try. Frightened
by the defeat of Og and Sichon, Balak turned to the occult and hired
Billam. Billam failed to curse the Jews but offered Balak a parting
freebee. "You will not be able to destroy them physically. G-d's promise to
protect them is absolute. However, G-d never promised to protect them from
themselves. Send out your daughters to seduce the Jewish men and you will
see how quickly G-d's wrath is awakened!"
Balak listened to Bilam's advice resulting in the incident of Baal Peor.
Baal Peor was not a momentary lapse in judgment on the part of the Jews. It
was predicated on their search for independence in the face of the change
in leadership and the uncertainties associated with the transition into the
land. The Jews were on a mission. They were to model for the rest of the
world what G-d intended for the universe and humanity. They realized that
their position as a "light onto the nations," would require ongoing
interaction with the other nations. Nations would visit them and they would
visit other nations. Yet, they were intended to remain apart from all the
other nations ("a nation that dwells alone") in thought and action. From
their perspective, with the death of Moshe the job of interacting with the
other nations would be up to them. Therefore, when Balak heeded Bilam's
advice and extended to the Jews an open welcome, the Jews saw this as
further confirmation of their approach. What better way to establish
positive diplomatic ties with the other nations than socializing with them?
In the minds of the nation, they were to be the generation of Mashiach. Led
by Yehoshua, they would enter the land, appoint a king, build the Bais
Hamikdash, establish diplomatic and social ties with the other nations, and
bring the world into united recognition and service of G-d. "And they will
make a single gathering to do Your will with a full heart." Therefore, the
Jews, seeking to assume greater responsibility and independence embraced
the Midianite overtures and their women. Their motives were "For the sake
of heaven." In fact, their rationalization was so enticing that even the
great prince Zimri, Leader of Shevet Shimon, succumbed to their logic to
such an extent that he was willing to personally participate by publicly
consorting with the Midianite Princes! What better way to quiet the critics
and advance the national mission?
Later in history we find Shlomo Hamelech (Solomon) falling into the very
same trap. The wisest of all men failed to see the fallacy of this logic.
Shlomo was the first of the potential Messiahs. He was the son of King
David. He was the chosen and anointed king. He built the first Temple.
During his reign all the Jews lived in Eretz Yisroel. He used his
prodigious wisdom to influence the nations of the world and bring world
peace. (Fulfilling the mandate, "And the nations of the world will
proclaim, 'The Jews are such a wise and understanding nation.') Shlomo had
every reason to believe that he was Mashiach. Therefore, he extended
himself to the other nations by seeking alliances with them through
marriage and family. The reputed 1000 wives of Shlomo were not emotional
conquests. They were the basis for Solomon's foreign policy in building
intimate ties with the other nations and positioning himself to guide them
closer to G-d. However, Shlomo was wrong. Shlomo did not accept the simple
directive, "He should not have too many wives." Shlomo's own brilliance and
success blinded him to the simplicity of G-d's commandments. He
rationalized that the prohibition did not apply to him.
The Jews were just like Shlomo. They saw themselves as the architects of
the messianic era and moved to make it happen. They embraced their destiny
as G-d's kingdom of priests and holy nation. They formulated a strategy for
interacting with the other nations that rationalized or justified their
underlying prurient interest. In the end they succumbed to Bilam's advice
and paid the price of G-d's wrath.
Pinchas saw all this unfolding. The priest who was not to be priest
recognized the fallacy of their logic and the truth of their motives. They
were going against the commandments of G-d and that could not be the way to
bring the Messianic era. He understood that he would have to pierce the
veil of their rational in a shocking and dangerous manner. His attack would
have to be swift, decisive, and public. Otherwise, others would be
influenced to join and G-d would destroy the Jews.
Pinchas's act of zealousness is defined as "being jealous for the sake of
G-d." Pinchas learned the hard way how to accept the decree of G-d. Pinchas
was the only one of Aharon's children and grandchildren not to be granted
the priesthood 40 years earlier. Yet, he accepted his omission from the
priesthood and subjugated himself to the decree of G-d. Pinchas understood
self-sacrifice and the need to accept divine imperative; therefore, he was
in the best position to recognize the simple truth. Zimri and the others
were not driven by their desire to establish the messianic era and bring
world peace. They were motivated by their physical cravings and their
desire for independence from G-d's commandments.
Pinchas raised his spear, ignored the danger to himself, and killed Zimri
and the Midianite Princess. The act was so shocking that it forced the Jews
to see the fallacy of their rationalization and recognize their continued
dependency upon Moshe and G-d. Pinchas presented the Jews with the most
fundamental example of how to be G-d's kingdom of priests and holy nation.
He showed them that the direct word of G-d couldn't be rationalized or
modified beyond Moshe's teachings. He showed that the only way to fulfill
the messianic dream and bring world peace was listen to the word of G-d.
Therefore, G-d made Pinchas a partner in His purpose and intentions for the
universe and humanity. Therefore, G-d gave Pinchas His Covenant of Peace.
Therefore, Pinchas became one of the preeminent "priests" within G-d's
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.