A Peaceful Hero
Pinchas is a tainted hero. Rashi records for us that the tribes of Israel,
especially the tribe of Shimon, complained that someone who is a
descendant of “one who fattened calves for paganism and dares kill a head
of a tribe in Israel” should not be entitled to any honors. The Lord, so
to speak, comes to his defense and grants him the gift of the priesthood -
to him and his descendants - and also the supreme blessing of peace.
The Torah records his genealogy as being from Elazar and Aharon and not
from the one who “fattened claves for idolatry.” Yet, even this
restoration of status and Godly confirmation of the rectitude of Pinchas
is also somewhat reserved.
In the word “shalom” that marks the covenant of peace granted to Pinchas
by God, the letter “vav” in this word, as it is written in the Torah, is
split and cracked. He is not granted the full blessing of peace but rather
a diminished portion of it. Our rabbis taught us that this is because his
heroics involved violence and the taking of human life, albeit in a just
and holy cause.
Peace obtained through violence and the death of others, even if those
deaths are unavoidably necessary and completely justified, is always
somewhat tarnished, cracked and split. Pinchas is thus completely
vindicated and rehabilitated by the Torah, but a lingering resentment
against his act of boldness and zealotry remains.
Pinchas reappears later in Jewish history in the book of Shoftim/Judges.
There he is the High Priest and according to some opinions, the leader of
the Sanhedrin as well. The Talmud records for us the tragic story of
Yiftach and his daughter - in which Yiftach vowed to sacrifice the first
living creature that would confront him when he returned home after the
successful war against Bnei Ammon, and was first greeted by his daughter.
The Talmud is of the opinion that Yiftach’s vow could have been annulled
legally by the court of Pinchas. But Pinchas insisted that Yiftach come to
him to obtain such an annulment while Yiftach felt that this would be an
affront to his position as the “shofeit” judge and temporal leader of
Israel So nothing was done, the vow remained, and the innocent life of
Yiftach’s daughter was snuffed out on the altar of pride. So Pinchas is
slightly tarnished in this story as well.
The eventual complete redemption of Pinchas occurs when the Talmud equates
him with the prophet Eliyahu. It is therefore Pinchas/Eliyahu who
accompanies the Jewish people throughout the ages and the troubles. He is
present at every brit milah and at every Pesach seder. He is the harbinger
of our complete redemption, the one who will bind the generations together
and is the symbol of hope and the glorious future of Israel and humankind.
It is as Eliyahu that Pinchas receives the undisputed heroic stature that
the Lord grants to him in this week’s parsha. May we see him speedily in
Rabbi Berel Wein