OU Torah Insights Project
The Torah states that Hashem rewarded Pinchas with His "covenant of peace." What does this mean? We know that Hashem responds to our actions midah keneged midah -- measure for measure. So if Pinchas acted violently, killing Zimri and the Midianite woman with whom he had sinned, why did Hashem reward him with a covenant of peace?
The Midrash, Yalkut Shimoni, elaborates on Pinchass fate: "Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: "Pinchas is Eliyahu Hanavi. Hakodosh Boruch Hu said to him, You made peace between me and my sons; in the future you too will be the one to make peace between me and my sons, as it says, Behold I will send to you Eliyahu the prophet...and he will return the hearts of the fathers to their sons."
As the Midrash sees it, G-d viewed Pinchass behavior not as violent but as peaceful --a reconciliation between Hashem and his sons, a motion to restore the deep fondness that characterizes the relationship of G-d and his people.
This is the proper model of zealotry.
The Gemara explains the verse in Tehillim, "Vayaamod Pinchas Vayifallel -- Pinchas quarreled with Hashem." "The angels sought to push him away but Hashem said to them, Leave him. He is a zealot the son of a zealot, an assuager of wrath the son of an assuager of wrath."
Pinchas argued with G-d not to punish Bnai Yisroel because of the sin of Zimri. Only as a last resort, when arguing with G-d failed, did Pinchas kill in order to assuage the wrath of G-d.
Pinchass zealousness arose from his great love of Klal Yisrael. His love prompted him to go to bat for them, to quarrel with Hashem for them. Thus his genealogy is traced by the verse: "Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon." Aharon was Judaisms great peacemaker, "a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace."
Pinchas shared his grandfathers traits. Just as Aharon sought to turn back the wrath of Hashem during the rebellion of Korach, so too Pinchas sought to turn back the wrath of Hashem by killing Zimri and the Midianite woman.
Pinchas could have been killed during his attack on Zimri, the Gemara records. Yet, he was willing to risk his life for Klal Yisrael.
Someone once asked Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld,zt"l, the first Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, why he was so sharp in his castigation of the secularists. Isnt the role of a pious man to advocate on behalf of all the Jewish people?
Reb Cham responded: "I only take this approach when speaking to the people involved directly in order to make it clear to them that their behavior is unacceptable. However, ever day I say Tehillim and cry to Hashem on their behalf."
The true zealot is a student of Aharon Hakohein, who loves Klal Yisrael, who advocates on behalf of Klal Yisrael, and who resorts to zealousness only as a last resort to restore peace between Hashem and his children.
Rabbi Shlomo Caplan
Rabbi Caplan is rabbi of Congregation Beth HaMedrash of Overlook Park, Philadelphia, PA