Shabbat Parashat Pinchas| 5763
Not only should Divine reward be given to the righteous, but it should also be appropriate. We know that David was deprived from building the Beit Hamikdash because of the blood he shed (Divrei Hayamim I, 28:3), even though he did so in justified battles. Metal instruments may not be employed in building an altar (Shemot 20:22) because of the incongruence of the life extending and the life taking. Yet, Pinchas had a surprising reward for his extra-judicial slaying of Zimri and Kuzbi. He merited becoming a kohen, a status which had alluded him as he fell through the historical cracks (Zevachim 101b). Even though his act of zealotry was praiseworthy, wasn’t the specific reward somewhat inappropriate?
The first thing we should notice is that the Torah stresses that the direct result of Pinchas’ action was life, not death. While it is clear from context that Pinchas killed Zimri and Kuzbi, never does the Torah say so in so many words. Bamidbar 25:8 says that he stabbed them and as a result … the plague stopped. Bamidbar 25:11,13 describes his actions only as saving Bnei Yisrael from destruction and bringing them atonement. Thus, the net result was saving lives, which is appropriate for a kohen. But didn’t Pinchas still act violently?
The Netziv points out that, indeed, the Torah needs to stress that Pinchas was provided with a covenant of peace (25:11), which shielded him from the negative impact that even a justified act of violence can have. But why was he deserving of this special treatment? The Netziv, infers from the description of the p’sukim that his zealotry, which we are told was for G-d’s sake, that Pinchas acted ach v’rak l’shem shamayim (only and solely for Heaven’s sake). But what does it mean that Pinchas acted solely for Heaven’s sake? Would we have thought that he also had an old score to settle with Zimri?!
It is worthwhile to consider the psychology of human reactions. If a normal, righteous and zealous Jew (these traits are neither necessarily related nor are they mutually exclusive) reacts harshly to religious desecration, much of his reaction is for Heaven’s sake. But, as a person who takes his religion seriously, an affront to the Torah is also a personal affront to him. A certain person fumes over the political activities of a rival group, who, for argument’s sake, does not seem to care about Eretz Yisrael. He certainly is acting for the sake of Hashem, His people, and His land. But doesn’t the affront to his personal concerns, pride, and value system play a role? Regarding a normal, fine, upstanding person, the answer is yes. It is only an unusually great person, like Pinchas, who can do things solely for Heaven’s sake and who deserves reward in unusually profound ways. The rest of us can still consider ourselves as acting primarily for Heaven’s sake (hopefully), but we should examine our reactions to see if they aren’t too harsh and try to concentrate on Hashem more than on our own feelings.
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