Parshas Pinchas :
An Act of Peace

By Rabbi Dovid Rifkind

"Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Bnei Yisroel when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so I did not consume the Bnei Yisroel in My vengeance. Therefore say: Behold! I give him my covenant of peace. And it shall be for him and his offspring after him, a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his G-d and he atoned for the Bnei Yisroel" (Bamidbar 25:10-13).

    Rashi cites the Gemora in Zevachim 101b, which explains that although Pinchas was Aharon HaKohen's grandson, he did not become a Kohen along with Aharon. Initially, the Kehunah was given only to Aharon, his sons, and their offspring born thereafter, whereas Pinchas had already been born. It was not until after Pinchas' act of vengeance against Zimri that he too, received the Kehunah. Seemingly, this was a reward for his vengeful act, and it is what the Torah describes as "my covenant of peace."

    Tosefos in Zevachim (ibid.) develops this point further, quoting a Sifri, which states that as a reward for his act, Pinchas also merited that every Kohen Gadol in the ensuing generations would come from his offspring.

    This explanation brings up several questions. Firstly, why is the Kehunah referred to as "my covenant of peace"? In what way does service in the Beis Hamikdash engender an act of spreading peace? Furthermore, although Pinchas' act was certainly necessary and just, and a great mitzvah, one would not naturally categorize it as an act of peace. We are taught that Hashem metes out reward and punishment middah k'neged middah - measure for measure. Why then is "my covenant of peace" the fitting reward for Pinchas' act of vengeance against Zimri?

    The answer would seem to lie in the fact that the Jewish definition of peace doesn't include the idea of avoiding friction at all cost and setting standards based on the lowest common denominator. Rather, we know that a peaceful existence is one in which all Jews are united by a common goal - the service of Hashem. This is a divine task, towards which each individual fulfills his or her own unique role.

    This being the case, it is readily understandable why the Kohanim were considered the arbiters of peace, for they were the spiritual hub of Klal Yisroel. A Judaism united in the service of Hashem revolved around the Kohanim, and they were its focal point. This understanding clarifies that Pinchas' act, although an act of vengeance, was truly an act of peace, for it refocused the Jews towards the fact that their role in this world is a spiritual one. It was therefore truly midah k'negged middah, that Pinchas be bestowed with the Kehunah as a reward for his act, for by his act, he showed a true understanding of what Jewish peace is all about.

    On the other hand, such an act can only be viewed as an act of peace if that is the true objective of the one who commits it.

    The pasuk in Bamidbar (25:7) states, "And Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen saw, and he rose from amongst the congregation, and he took a spear in his hand."

    Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky, ZT"L, was known to point out that Pinchas was not walking around with a spear looking for a cause, so to speak. In reality, his objective was peace. Pinchas realized that in this situation, there was no alternative way of pursuing peace, even though at first glance, his response could easily be viewed as a violent act.

    This is perhaps the underlying meaning behind Rav Ashi's opinion (Zevachim ibid.) that Pinchas did not receive the Kehunah until he made peace amongst the Bnei Yisroel. Rashi explains that during Yehoshua's rule, the Jewish people wanted to wage war against the tribes of Gad and Reuven for building an altar on the banks of the Jordan river, but Pinchas' diplomacy successfully averted a war. It was only at this point that Pinchas actually received the Kehunah, according to Rav Ashi.

    Perhaps, the underlying understanding is that only after Pinchas demonstrated that he was an ohev shalom - one who loved peace, did he receive the Kehunah, because only then did his original intentions become clear. It was then obvious to the entire nation that his act of vengeance was motivated by his yearnings for peace, and that he was truly deserving to receive Hashem's "covenant of peace."

Parsha Encounters is 1998 by the Chicago Community Kollel
Published June 4, 1998


Rabbi Dovid Rifkind is a full-time member of the Chicago Community Kollel.



Copyright 1999 to present by Chicago Community Kollel