Parshas Pinchas

The Sedra opens with the end to a drama that began at the end of last week’s Sedra. Klal-Yisroel camped in Shitim and began to act inappropriately. They became intimate with the Moabite girls which led them to serve Avoda-Zara. These acts angered Hashem and caused Hashem to punish Am-Yisroel with a horrible unstoppable plague. In the midst of all this, Zimri a Nassi (tribal leader) publicly disgraced Hashem by having an affair with the Median princes Kazbi. Pinchus acting upon zealous impulse took a spear and stabbed the two offenders while they were in the midst of their act. Pinchos’s actions put an end to the whole plague. The Torah tells us that in reward for Pinchus’s zealousness he was rewarded with Hashem’s convent of peace.

There is a glaring contrast between the act and its reward. Generally zealousness wouldn’t be considered synonymous with peace. At times it may even be viewed as the antithesis of peace. Thus the reward seems to be at odds with the act.

The Gomorrah explains: the death penalty is not given to someone who had relations with a non-Jew. The only reason that he should have killed them was because in such situation there is a particular Din (law) of Knoy pogim bo – a Halacha that a zealot may kill a person amidst such an act. It seems a bit peculiar that such a zealot as Pinchus should be rewarded specifically with a convent of peace. Aside from Pinchos receiving a convent of peace the Torah tells us that he was rewarded with ‘Eternal Priesthood’ as well. What does priesthood have to do with peace, or zealousness?

Rashi makes note of the fact that the Hebrew word that is used here for zealousness is Kinah – jealousness, explains Rashi that this really means Nekama – Vengeance. The Sifsei-Chachamim explains that since the Passuk uses the word Kinah, but Kinah can only be something personal and the Passuk says that it was not his own Kinah but rather that of Hashem. Therefore it must be that the Passuk really means Vengence, because that is indeed something that Pinchus can carry out for Hashem’s sake.

A Kohen’s position was to bring the offerings from Klal-Yisroel to Hashem. The Gemorah explains that the offering of Karbanos brought peace to the world. Hence a Kohen was in essence a peacemaker.

The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. The root of the word Shalom is Shalem, meaning whole. The Torah’s idea of peace is an idea of wholeness. Peace is utter and sheer harmony that forges completeness between entities.

True peace usually denotes love and not acts of violence no matter what ideological reasoning there may be behind the violence. we understand peace as a wholesomeness that is and should always be present. when something interferes with this synergy it causes a lack of harmony. . If we view the world as centered around Hashem we understand that Divine Will must be at the center of this synergy. Thus Pinchus’s act of zealousness wasn’t an act of violence but rather one that portrayed deep love for Hashem. It is now easily understood why his reward was that of peace. Likewise we can now understand this peculiar instance that there is no death penalty but yet a zealot should kill them.

Peace is eternal and constant. It is only not present when we disturb it or allow for it to be disturbed. We must always remove whatever stands in peace’s way while at the same time try to do things to generate peace.

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In this week’s Sedra we read about how the land of Eretz-Yisroel will be apportioned among the various tribes after the Conquest. In the midst of this the Torah interjects the issue raised by Bnos Tzelofchod (the daughters of Tzelofchod).   Their father had died, leaving no sons who could inherit his assigned portion in the Land of Israel. They were now suggesting to Moshe that perhaps they could inherit their father’s portion. Moshe Rabeinu in turn relays their question to Hashem, who responds that they should marry into their own tribe, thereby allowing them to inherit their father’s portion in the Land while also keeping that parcel of land within its appropriate Sheivet.   While this anecdote is an important one, the Torah still deviates from the subject at hand by inserting apparently extraneous detail into the retelling of this story: The Torah tells us not only that these righteous women were the daughters of Tzelofchod, but that Tzelofchod was the son of Mochir, who was the son of Menashe, who was the son of Yosef. It seems a bit puzzling that the Torah feels it necessary to insert their entire lineage in this passage.

Rashi addresses this issue and explains that the retelling of the entire lineage is meant as a praise of the daughters of Tzelofchod that should be traced back to Yosef; a praise for Yosef as well. Rashi explains that just like Eretz-Yisroel was so dear to Yosef Hatzadik that he requested that Klal-Yisroel bring back his remains there when it would be redeemed from Egypt, so too his ‘granddaughters’ had a special appreciation for the Land and wanted to make sure that their father’s inheritance in it would not be lost.

The difficulty with this Rashi is that Yosef was neither their father nor even their grandfather for them to have known him and therefore perhaps to have been influenced by him. He was in reality but a rather distant forefather.   How was it that this influenced their appreciation for Eretz-Yisroel?

Yosef Hatzadik had asked that his remains should be brought up from Egypt. Moshe Rabeinu had carried Yosef’s bones the whole time that Klal-Yisroel was in the wilderness. Bnos-Tzelofchod had grown up witnessing this request of their ancestor being fulfilled. Thus while they didn’t have a direct influence from Yosef they did have a legacy from him.

While the actions we take are not always witnessed by others, they nevertheless always have an impact, they create a certain atmosphere. This atmosphere could be a virtuous one or, God forbid, a negative one. Our actions certainly have an impact, some a smaller one, some a greater one, but they all can have an influence for eternity.

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Following his failed attempt to put a curse upon Klal-Yisroel, Bilam counseled Balak to implement a cunning plot he had devised to induce Klal-Yisroel to sin so as to draw Hashem’s wrath upon it. Balak and Midian acted upon Bilam’s advice. They sent their young women to seduce the Jewish men. They enticed these latter to be intimate with them and to do avoda zara. While many Jewish men were guilty of falling prey to the Midianite women, the most notorious case was that of Zimri, one of the leaders of a tribe, who was publicly intimate with Cozbi, a Midianite princess. This act of Zimri’s indeed provoked Hashem’s wrath and caused a deadly plague to befall Am-Yisroel. Upon witnessing this public desecration, Pinchas acted quickly and with deadly zeal, piercing both Zimri and Cozbi with a single throw of his spear, causing Hashem’s wrath to subside.

At the beginning of this week’s Sedra Hashem commands Am-Yisroel to take revenge against the Midianim. Hashem specifies two reasons for this: 1) because they caused Am-Yisroel to commit idolatry, and 2) because of Cozbi and her involvement in Baal Peor (the avoda zara). The obvious question is: why was Cozbi singled out as being a second cause? Why wasn’t she included in the first?

Cozbi was an important princess. She wasn’t a simple commoner or even ordinary nobility. She was used in order to target the elite of Am-Yisroel. The sin of idolatry and the prohibition of being intimate with a gentile woman are the same for leaders and commoners alike. However, the magnitude of the sin is very different. Zimri may have acted similarly to other Jews and they were all lured into sinning in the same way. Midian was being punished not for any sin per se, but for the fact that they caused Am-Yisroel to sin. When one is being punished for a sin, the sin is what is taken into account. When one is being punished for causing a sin to be committed, the effect is what is taken into account.

Cozbi had a much more powerful impact than any of the other Medianite women; her causing the sin is therefore especially singled out.

There are multiple lessons to be learned. Perhaps the most obvious is that of cause and effect. In a cause-and-effect situation, there is no knowing how great the impact of a particular act will be, nor on whom/what that impact will materialize. Thus having influence carries with it the possibility of an immeasurable impact. Another important lesson is that even great people can be negatively influenced if enough pressure is used. Zimri was not intimate with just anyone. It took a prominent princess for him to succumb to sin, but in the end he did sin gravely.

While even leaders cannot be expected to be perfect, they nonetheless must take heed from Zimri. No amount of pressure is an excuse great enough to sin, especially since the influence leaders have means that their immoral and illicit behavior can have an impact far beyond the sin itself.