by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"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."
With all of the Torah's concern for love of our fellow Jew, and for pursuing
peace, this may seem somewhat incongruous. What did Pinchas do? He jumped
up and 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 -
and this was in fact Shlumiel ben Tzurishadai, the same Prince who offered
the sacrifice on the fifth day of the dedication of the Tabernacle (see
Parshas Naso, Numbers 7:36). Thus Pinchas could have inspired hatred in
every member of the Tribe of Shimon. Despite all of this, G-d not only
forgives Pinchas, but gives him His Covenant of Peace.
What the Parsha is telling us is that this is peace. This is love of
our fellow Jew. 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."
The Ohr HaChayim points out three elements of the actions of Pinchas. One,
that he placed himself in danger - thus the Torah says that he was
zealous. Second, his intentions were only for the honor of Heaven - it was
"My vengeance," G-d's and G-d's alone. And third, he did this publicly,
"amongst them," rather than hiding his effort to honor Heaven.
We like to emphasize the need for unbridled love and concern for every other
Jew - but not the idea that Pinchas is part of "peace". As a result, 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 concern for the Jewish people and our spirituality, then it
is sometimes appropriate.
I know that I am unlikely to ever fulfill the necessary criteria offered by
the Ohr HaChayim in order to "be zealous for My vengeance amongst them," and
I am certain that most would agree that few can achieve this level of
dedication. Nonetheless, we should hesitate before condemning those who do
speak out against practices which they find detrimental to Jews and Judaism.
Perhaps their zealotry is not "creating division," but rather is the
zealotry of Pinchas?