A Promise of Peace
The Lord promises Pinchas that most valuable and yet the constantly elusive
gift – the blessings of the covenant of peace. The world has known very
little peace over the long millennia of human existence. Strife and
conflict, war and violence, have been the staples of human existence from
time immemorial. Many historians and social scientists maintain that war and
violence are the natural and constant states of human affairs.
So the promise of peace to Pinchas seems to be a little extravagant,
especially since it appears that Pinchas has earned this reward of peace by
committing an act of violence and war. Shall we say that a time of peace is
merely the absence of war; a negative state of being that only marks the
interregnum between wars and continued violence?
We are all well aware how difficult it is to achieve peace and how fragile
its existence is when, apparently, it is somehow achieved. Its fragility is
attested to in the Torah, where the vav in the word shalom is broken and
incomplete. So, we may certainly wonder what actually and practically was
God’s promise to Pinchas - and how was it ever to be fulfilled.
This perplexing issue is especially pertinent regarding Pinchas himself, who
participated in the wars that Israel conducted against Midian and later
against the Canaanite tribes in the Land of Israel during the times of
Yehoshua and the Judges. Where is the promise of peace present in the life
of Pinchas himself, let alone in the lives of the future generations of his
descendants particularly and the Jewish people generally?
Many of the commentators to the Torah defined God’s promise of peace to
Pinchas and his descendants as being a personal and individual state of
inner being, of what we colloquially call “being at peace with one’s self.”
Pinchas is undoubtedly disturbed by the act of violence that he committed
and by the widespread criticism of his actions by many of the Jewish people
at that time.
Nevertheless, the Lord tells him that he did the right thing and that
history will later thank him for his boldness and alacrity in stemming the
tide of immorality that threatened to overwhelm the Jewish people. So
Pinchas acquires, through God’s blessing, the peace of mind and the
necessary confident inner conviction of having committed an act that Heaven
and history will deem to be justifiable and correct, even if it is currently
unpopular in the eyes of much of society.
President Harry Truman is reported to have said that he lost little sleep
over the atomic bombing of Japan which concluded World War II because he
believed that he saved millions of American and Japanese lives by his
awesome decision. He never again agonized over that decision since he had
achieved an inner peace regarding the matter.
Our conscience always disturbs us when we make wrong decisions and pursue
failed policies. It never rises to plague us when we have behaved correctly
and decided wisely and morally. It is this blessing and reward that the Lord
bestowed upon Pinchas and his descendants – the blessing of inner peace and
Rabbi Berel Wein