“Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Priest, has turned away My anger from the children of Israel, by being zealous for My vengeance amongst them; and [thus] I did not destroy the children of Israel in My vengeance. Therefore, I say, behold I give to him My Covenant of Peace.” [25:11-12]
With all of the Torah’s concern for love of our fellow Jew, and for pursuing peace, it seems difficult to understand how the Torah could reward Pinchas with G-d’s Covenant of Peace. Pinchas jumped up and, in an act of pure zealotry, killed another Jew.
And the Talmud (Sanhedrin 82) tells us that this was not just any Jew, but Zimri, the Prince of the Tribe of Shimon. His real name was Shlumiel ben Tzurishadai, the very same Prince who offered the sacrifice on the fifth day of the dedication of the Tabernacle (see Parshas Naso, Numbers 7:36). Pinchas leaped forward and killed one of the leading figures in the entire Jewish people.
Despite all of this, G-d did not merely forgive Pinchas, but declared that Pinchas had done the right thing — and G-d gave Pinchas His Covenant of Peace.
What the Parsha is telling us is that, simply put, this _was_ the pursuit of peace. The Torah traces the lineage of Pinchas back to Aharon, about whom Hillel said in the Sayings of the Fathers, 1:12, “Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people, and bringing them closer to the Torah.”
This means that the pursuit of peace is not always as it appears to us. What is peace? Peace is when we lay down our weapons and live in unity under G-d. But the _pursuit_ of peace does not mean lying down in the face of evil. The following couplet is making its rounds on the Internet, and demonstrates this principle using current events:
If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.
For the Israelis to put down their weapons would, barring a miracle, lead only towards the peace of the dead, and that is not G-d’s Peace.
The Ohr HaChayim points to three elements of the actions of Pinchas, which show us that he was pursuing peace. One, he placed himself in danger — which is why the Torah says that he was zealous. Second, his intentions were only for the honor of Heaven — it was “My vengeance,” says the Torah, G-d’s and G-d’s alone. And third, Pinchas did this publicly, “amongst them,” rather than hiding his effort to honor Heaven.
We like to emphasize the need for love and brotherhood — but not the idea that pursuing peace sometimes means standing up to what is wrong, condemning and even combating it. We may not understand why Jewish leaders sometimes publicly condemn other Jews and their behavior. The Torah asks us to realize that if the condemnation emerges out of love for the Jewish people and our spirituality, then it is sometimes appropriate.
The methods of Pinchas are, for all intents and purposes, entirely closed to us. The idea that one could actually kill a person entirely for the sake of Heaven is merely a theoretical construct, for anyone but Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen. What can we learn from this, then? That sometimes the pursuit of peace can seem very unfriendly. Sometimes that is our unfortunate responsibility: we should take no joy in seeking peace by making war — whether verbal or literal — but to criticize it is to actually hurt true peace, not enhance it.
May we always have the wisdom to seek and pursue true peace, until we finally see true peace, speedily and in our days!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2002 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.