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."
People often like to discuss passages in the Torah which they find
perplexing or contradictory, and I'm surprised that this parsha is rarely
mentioned in that context. We see that Pinchas is called "jealous for
HaShem," and this we can understand. But he is also given the "Covenant of
Peace" - he killed someone, and the Torah calls him a peacemaker!
It sounds like a euphemism from the Cold War, but the Torah isn't given to
this sort of exaggeration. 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." How can we understand this?
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch says that a Bris, a covenant, represents an
absolute promise from G-d. HaShem promises us that the world will
eventually see complete peace and harmony - and affirms that the actions of
Pinchas were a step in the right direction. Rabbi Hirsch notes that the
behavior of Pinchas is exactly that which the world likes to designate and
condemn as "disturbing the peace" - but this, he explains, is not the
failure of Pinchas. This is a grave fault in a world which fails to respond
to evil, and inappropriately labels its thoughtlessness and inactivity as
"love of peace."
Peace is indeed precious, and one must be prepared to sacrifice one's
rights and possessions on its behalf, but not that which G-d has declared
to be right and good. Peace can only be maintained when we are at peace
with G-d. If someone fights those who are against Divine Goodness and
Truth, explains Rabbi Hirsch, he is fighting for the Covenant of Peace.
Rabbi Hirsch goes still further - and criticizes those who would prefer to
stand silent while evil goes on around them: "He who, for the sake of
so-called peace, quietly leaves the field to people who are really at
variance with G-d, his love of peace is at one with the enemies of the
Covenant of Peace on earth. It was not the inactive standing apart of the
masses, not even the tears of those who stood inactive at the entrance of
the Sanctuary weeping at the treason, it was the honest brave act of
Pinchas which saved the nation and restored his peace with G-d and His Law
and thereby brought back the basis for real true peace on earth"
[translation by Isaac Levy, Judaica Press 1989].
The Medrash Rabba [Genesis 8:5] says in the name of Rabbi Seemon that when
G-d wanted to create man, the attending angels divided into groups to argue
the matter. "Kindness and truth encountered each other; righteousness and
peace kissed each other" [Psalms 85:11]. Kindness said "create him, for he
will perform acts of kindness." Truth said "do not create him, for he is
entirely lies." Righteousness said "create him, for he will do righteous
acts." And Peace said "do not create him, for he is full of argument." What
did G-d do? He took Truth and cast him to the ground.
The Kotzker Rebbe, famed for his sharp comments, asks the following
question: what about Peace? Fine, the majority was now in favor, but
nonetheless is there not a lack of Peace? So he answered: without Truth,
Peace is trivial to achieve.
If we don't care about truth, it's easy to have peace - as Rav Hirsch
explained it, the false peace of those who don't care enough to stand and
defend that which is right and good. Only when we are unafraid to take
sides where appropriate, do we build a peace which is lasting and good.
Rabbi Yaakov Menken