In the previous parashah, we saw how the action of Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, appeased the Eternal’s anger, by killing the Israelite and the Midianite who had committed an act of terrible indecency in front of the entire congregation stopping the plague that had killed 24,000 people as punishment for their immoral behavior with the Moabite and Midianite women. Now in this parashah, God recognized his zeal and rewarded Pinchas the “Brit Shalom”, Covenant of Peace for him and his descendants for all time. Isn’t it ironic that the reward for a violent murder is a “pact of peace?” Our sages explain that God’s desire was for the Israelites to know that, by his action, Pinchas had saved them from a calamity which deserved this reward.
The Hebrew word “Shalom” (peace) depicts something complete and perfect. If something is immoral, pacification won’t lead to peace. We can see that Pinchas had a pure and honest intention to honor God. When it says in verse 25:11 that Pinchas turned God’s anger away from the children of Israel, it suggests that Pinchas acted as God would have which is why he received such a great reward. We each possess qualities of the Eternal and when we act in accordance with them, we receive a “greater reward.” Before killing Zimri, Pinchas was not a cohen, although he was a Levite. God had designated the kehunat, the priesthood only to Aaron, his children, and his descendants. Aaron’s grandsons born prior to the anointing of the kohanim were not included. Now Pinchas became a cohen by his own merit; not only he, but also his descendants forever.
We might ask ourselves: did only Pinchas see what was going on? When Pinchas saw this, he might have thought, why should I be the one to do something? Instead, he “showed enthusiasm” and acted through a sense of duty.
We are sometimes confronted with similar situations; perhaps questions of morality, injustice, and so on and often out of the fear of not being accepted, of appearing too “religious” or too ridiculous or simply due to sheer negligence, we prefer not to act.
There is a clear teaching that the Ten Commandments were given in a unique and personal way. If they were given to all the people, wouldn’t they have been written in the plural? The Ten Commandments were given in the singular for each of us to feel that they were given specifically to us. Every individual has the obligation to fulfill the Torah, regardless of what others do or fail to do. Pinchas did not think, calculate, or analyze the pros and cons. He simply acted but acted without fear. This does not mean that we should always act without thinking. Thinking comes before action, by weighing the possibilities, by not rushing in. But when it comes to our heritage as God’s people, our values and what we believe in, our commitment to the Torah must be total.
Pinchas was rewarded with the eternal kehunat (priesthood) precisely because he did what the cohen would do in offering sacrifice to cover the people. As I mentioned before, his act rescued the entire people from death because they were all guilty of tolerating evil in their midst. Hence what he did benefited all B’nei Israel. By appeasing the wrath of the Almighty, Pinchas ensured the survival of the people of Israel. Therefore, he himself survived forever. Bad behavior in public at a high toxic level adversely affects society. For the disobedience of one, the whole nation suffered. However, due to the obedience of one, the punishment was stopped.
That the Torah specifies the origins of Pinchas, Zimri and Kozbi is a detail that’s important to note. The ancestors of Pinchas are listed to emphasize that he followed in their footsteps. Zimri’s high rank is noted to show that a prince of his tribe destroyed his people with his immorality and brought them all shame. The same can be said of Kozbi, a Midianite princess. Pinchas did not hold back from killing them, regardless of their high rank.
Immediately after the plague struck the people, God gave Moses the instructions about the war against Midian. The Midianites were angry with Israel due to the death of their princess, Kozbi and for the destruction of her idols. “Since they plan to bring more destruction upon you, stand up and attack them, in order to protect yourselves“. God gave them instructions on how to attack them.
While other nations sought to destroy Israel physically, the Midianites hit directly at the “heart” of the people, leading them to disobey their Creator by fornicating with their women and going after their gods. Everyone is responsible for their actions, and they must bear the consequences. But inciting someone to transgress the Torah is a very serious crime, and that is what the Midianites did to the people of Israel. They were about to enter the Promised Land. They would go from a life which had been totally dependent upon the Creator, where the “bread fell from heaven” …. to a life where “the bread would come from the earth” and would now require their physical sweat. Their spiritual nirvana would now be replaced by the mundane. That is why that Exodus generation disdained the land, preferring their desert asylum to the trials and challenges of a national state. They were forgetting, or perhaps they had not yet understood, that God had brought them out of Egypt to give them the Torah and to enter the Promised Land, to conquer it and settle there to make it a “holy land”. But instead, this generation on the eve of realizing its mission to sanctify the world, fell into the idolatry of Peor.
The Torah also tells us in this parashah, about the appointment of Joshua ben Nun as the successor of Moshe. It is striking that the names of Moshe’s sons appeared nowhere. His sons would not inherit his leadership rather it would fall to Joshua. The leadership of the people of Israel could not be inherited. This helps us understand that it is useless to inherit and systematically repeat ancient traditions or the study of Torah or the observance of mitzvot, without their true meaning. If we follow the path of inheriting everything we have, we would be affirming that the only reason to comply with the Torah is because our ancestors did, and this would be a mistake. Our lives can only make sense if we become aware of our personal commitment to keeping the Torah.
Parashat Pinchas also talks about an episode in which Zelofechad from the tribe of Manasseh had died leaving five daughters but no male heirs. He had not participated with Korach and the other rebels. His daughters requested that they be given their right of inheritance. In ancient Israel, a woman was considered the property of her father, and was then transferred to her husband, for a dowry. When his daughters realized that their father’s name would be excluded from the distribution of land because he had no male heirs, they decided to do something unprecedented: in humility and wisdom, they pleaded their case to Moshe, to the cohen Eleazar and to the leaders of the community to claim their right to inherit their father’s property. Moses humbly consulted God Who replied that the claim of the daughters was just and that they should be granted their father’s inheritance. The result was that God created a new law giving women the same right as males to inherit property when the father died.
What can we learn from the act of these sisters? Their faith teaches us that God’s mercy is equally available to all. They had courage and a love for the Promised Land, but they didn’t just sit and long for it, rather they stepped forward so their wish could be fulfilled; they fought for their rights, but they did it with respect. Nowhere in this story does it say that they murmured or were angry, or that they rebelled against Moses. We don’t hear them crying out: “we have the same rights as men”, as we see in today’s feminist movement.
Let’s not forget that God gave men and women different roles and although many rights for women have been achieved, they have, at times, come at a cost due to rebellion, anger, and more anger, as well as litigation. We can always claim our rights, but let’s do it with respect and without violating the rights of others. God is just and righteous, and He doesn’t want women to be at a disadvantage. He views women to be as capable as any man.
May our Creator use this teaching to encourage us to fight for justice and to rid ourselves of prejudice that may prevent us from acting correctly.
Mr. Alejandro Alvarado