"With Parashat Pinchas," writes R' Moshe Zvi Neriyah z"l, "we
feel a refreshing breeze blowing." Not only are all of the
joyous holidays mentioned here, but we are introduced to the new
generation, the one that will enter Eretz Yisrael.
In the beginning of the parashah, writes R' Neriyah, we meet
Pinchas. He is a zealot on the outside, but he is blessed with
the covenant of peace as well (see 25:12).
In this parashah, continues R' Neriyah, Yehoshua is named to
succeed Moshe. Yehoshua never willingly left the tent where
Moshe taught Torah, but he was nevertheless someone that Hashem
and Moshe could trust to lead the Jews into war (see Sh'mot ch.
17). Chazal say that the elders of the generation never let go
of Moshe and Aharon (see Bava Batra 75a), but the youth were
inspired by Yehoshua and Pinchas.
In this parashah we also meet the daughters of Tzelofchad, who
not only demanded a share of Eretz Yisrael (because they had no
brothers), they wanted their share to be on the holier west bank
of the Jordan, not on the eastern side where much of their tribe
How appropriate, concludes R' Neriyah, that Parashat Pinchas
should come to encourage us during the Three Weeks. (Shabbat
B'shabbato No. 187)
"Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon Hakohen, turned back
My wrath from upon Bnei Yisrael, when he zealously avenged
Me among them, so I did not consume Bnei Yisrael in My
vengeance. Therefore, say, `Behold! I give him My covenant
of peace'." (25:10-11)
The Gemara teaches that these verses are Hashem's response to
the cynical comments of Bnei Yisrael: "Have you seen this
grandson of Puti -- whose mother's father used to fatten calves
for idolatrous sacrifices -- and he has dared to slay a prince of
one of Israel's tribes?" That comment referred to the fact that
Pinchas's father, Elazar, had married a daughter of Putiel, who
is identified with the Midianite Yitro. Accordingly, the Torah
comes along and connects Pinchas' genealogy with Aharon.
R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l (1865-1935) explains: One
who wants to be a kana'i, one who zealously avenges Hashem's
honor, must have completely pure motivations. Therefore Bnei
Yisrael asked: How can someone whose mother was a Midianite and
whose grandfather was a priest to idolatry attain such pure
motivation? Surely Pinchas' killing of Zimri and the Midianite
woman was the product of the bad character that he inherited from
that side of his family.
No! says the Torah. Pinchas' nature is entirely that of his
paternal grandfather Aharon, well-known as a "lover of peace and
pursuer of peace." Pinchas' seemingly "unpeaceful" act was
contrary to his nature and was done purely for Hashem's sake.
R' Kook adds: Why did Hashem value Pinchas' act so highly? It
was because Pinchas "turned back [Hashem's] wrath from upon Bnei
Yisrael." That was no ordinary wrath! Usually, some time passes
between a sin and its punishment, but not here. As told at the
end of last week's parashah, 24,000 of Bnei Yisrael died in a
plague immediately upon engaging in the immoral acts described
there. Only when Pinchas killed Zimri did the plague stop.
What was Pinchas' reward? Our Sages teach that Pinchas and
Eliyahu are one and the same. His reward was (and is) eternal
life. Why? Because just as there usually is time between a sin
and its punishment, there also is a separation between a good
deed and its reward. This is a separation not only in time --
the mitzvah is in this world but the reward is in the next -- but
also in the fact that most reward is reserved for the soul,
although the mitzvah was done by the body. However, because
Pinchas stopped the plague that came together with the sin, his
body and his soul were rewarded together and his Olam Ha'zeh and
his Olam Ha'ba were merged into one.
In addition, R' Kook explains, Pinchas' reward of eternal life
actually proves that his kana'ut / zealousness was purely for the
sake of Heaven. Ordinarily, kana'ut -- closely related to both
jealousy and anger -- is a destructive force that can kill the
one who practices it. Pinchas' eternal life proves that his
kana'ut was different.
(Olat Reiyah p. 394)
R' Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg z"l (Rosh Yeshiva in Berlin and
Switzerland and noted halachic authority; died 1966) also
observes that a kana'i must have pure motivations. That is why
Moshe did not kill Zimri himself. Chazal say that when Moshe
rebuked Zimri for consorting with a Midianite, Zimri retorted,
"And who gave you permission to marry a Midianite woman?" Of
course, Moshe's case was different, for Moshe married Tzipporah
before the Torah was given. Nevertheless, in his humility, Moshe
feared that if he killed Zimri, he might derive even a tiny
measure of satisfaction from taking revenge on the person who
Moreover, if Moshe had killed Zimri, cynics might have
perceived it as an attempt to erase his own shame at having
married a Midianite. Or, perhaps such a motivation might even
sneak into Moshe's heart, however subtly. Moshe was afraid of
this, so he did not act. That is what Bnei Yisrael referred to
when they rebuked Pinchas, mentioning that he too had Midianite
blood. They said, "Are you holier than Moshe? He did not trust
his own motivations, but you do?"
To this the Torah answers, "Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of
Aharon Hakohen" -- Man does not always know what motivates him,
but Hashem does. Pinchas did not do this as the grandson of
Yitro, but rather as the grandson of Aharon.
(Lefrakim p. 608)
A related halachah:
R' Yisroel Meir Kagan (the "Chafetz Chaim"; died 1933) writes
that it is permissible in certain instances to speak words that
would otherwise be lashon hara, for example to save an innocent
person from harm or to distance people from interacting with a
sinner. However, before one may speak in such circumstances, he
must satisfy certain conditions. One of these is that he must be
motivated purely by the benefit that either the listener or the
subject will derive. (The subject can benefit by becoming
motivated to repent when he sees that people avoid him.)
However, if the speaker will derive any satisfaction from
speaking about the subject, he may not do so.
Certainly, the Chafetz Chaim writes, one may not relate how he
personally suffered at the hands of the subject, for example, if
the subject harmed him, stole from him, cheated him, or insulted
him. Moreover, one may not even relate how the subject once
failed to do good to him, for example, by refusing to extend him
a loan. (The Chafetz Chaim observes that the latter rule is
violated when one visits a city and says, "You are much more
friendly than the people in town so-and-so.") In any of the
cases described in this paragraph, the typical person cannot
possibly keep his motivation pure.
(Sefer Chafetz Chaim Ch. 10)
A related thought:
R' Avraham Mordechai Alter z"l (the Gerrer Rebbe; died 1948)
asks: How is it that in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei, in the
midst of asking for all of our own and the nation's physical and
spiritual needs, we suddenly seem to stoop so low as to pray that
G-d uproot the sinners and take revenge on them? He answers: The
Gemara teaches that that part of Shemoneh Esrei was authored by
the Sage Shmuel Hakattan, the very same sage who taught, "When
your enemy falls, do not rejoice." Only such a person could
write such a prayer.
(Otzrot Tzaddikei U'geonei Ha'dorot)
R' Eliyahu de Vidas z"l
R' Eliyahu was born in Tzefat in approximately 1550. His
father passed away at a young age, and R' Eliyahu grew up in
extreme poverty. He studied under the two leading kabbalists of
his day, R' Moshe Kordevero ("RaMaK") and R' Yitzchak Luria (the
"Arizal"). When RaMaK passed away, R' Eliyahu was entrusted with
the deceased sage's writings. Later, R' Eliyahu settled in
Chevron and became its Chief Rabbi.
R' Eliyahu is best known for his classic ethical work Raishit
Chochmah. Perhaps more so than any other popular mussar work,
Raishit Chochmah delves into many esoteric and hidden matters,
for example, a description of the punishment one may suffer in
Gehinnom. A son-in-law of R' Yisroel Meir Kagan (the "Chafetz
Chaim"; died 1933) relates that his father-in-law used to
deliver a mussar lecture to his students on Shabbat afternoons.
Once he commented that people think that the description of
Gehinnom in Raishit Chochmah is exaggerated, but that is not the
case. Every word in R' Eliyahu's description should be taken as
it is written, the Chafetz Chaim said.
One of the Chafetz Chaim's students was gripped by terror when
he heard this, and he fell ill. For a time, he seemed to be at
death's door, but he eventually recovered. He went to the
Chafetz Chaim and he said, "Had I died, you would have been to
The Chafetz Chaim rose to his full height and replied, "I say
again - everything is exactly as the Raishit Chochmah describes.
However, I do regret not adding one thing. If a person knew the
extent to which suffering in this world can lessen the need for
punishment in the World-to-Come, a person would gladly accept the
suffering of Iyov (Job) all the days of his life."
In Raisit Chochmah, Sha'ar Ha'yirah, R' Eliyahu relates that in
the month of Elul in the year 1570, he was visited in a dream by
the soul of a man who had died about three months before. The
soul told R' Eliyahu, "Man is judged here and punished to a much
more exacting degree than most people expect." Elsewhere in his
work, R' Eliyahu writes that a certain R' Lapidot told RaMaK that
he had seen R' Yehuda bar Shushan in a dream and the latter's
face shown like the sun, and his beard glowed like a lamp,
because he had never spoken idle words in his lifetime.
R' Eliyahu passed away in Chevron in approximately 1587.