“Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back my wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged Me among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in My vengeance. Therefore, say: Behold! I give him my covenant of peace.” (Bamidbar , Chapter 25 Verses 11 and 12).
What was the “Covenant of Peace given by Hashem to Pinchas”?
The Ibn Ezra comments regarding the “covenant of peace”, that this was a pledge that Pinchas would be protected from the ire of Zimri”s kinsmen and supporters.
The Seforno, takes a very different approach. He explains that the protection that Hashem awards Pinchas, is in fact protection from death in general terms. The Seforno goes on to point out that this covenant from Hashem did indeed realize itself, for Pinchas lived for many years to come. In fact, Pinchas served in the Tabernacle in Shiloh, well after the passing of Yehoshua and the elders. Our Rabbis were even of the opinion that Eliyahu the Prophet and Pinchas are one and the same person, that being the case, Pinchas is actually still alive today.
The Keli Yakar, notes that as a result of the immediate, seemingly impulsive actions taken by Pinchas, the people may have wrongly assumed that a certain friction would now exist between Moshe Rabeinu and Pinchas, in that Pinchas essentially acted without referring to Moshe, thus unintentionally undermined the leadership. Hashem therefore commanded Moshe to inform the people that there was no conflict between himself and Pinchas, that there was no internal family politics that the people need worry about. Thus the words “Behold! I give him my covenant of peace” was a statement made by Moshe in order to clarify the situation for the people.
The Emek Davar, comments quite beautifully, that any action that a person does has an effect on that individual as a human being. Even if the action was done for the correct reason, it does not ensure that there will not be any negative repercussion as a result of that act. When Pinchas killed Zimri, he did the right thing at the right time, yet nevertheless, he killed two human beings in cold blood. Even when the act needed to be done, there is clearly a possibility that this kind of act can have an adverse effect on Pinchas as a human being, that it can change his outlook on life in general.
The covenant of peace that Hashem is referring to is an internal peace. This blessing assures Pinchas that even though his act would normally have adverse repercussions, in his case he will only feel peace, it will not change him from his true nature of “ohev shalom verodef shalom”. Whenever, I come across these insightful words of the Netziv, I am reminded of a very special comment made by Golda Meir immediately after the Yom Kippur war, on the subject of “forgiving”. She said, that she could forgive our enemies for killing us, but she could not forgive them for making us kill them, albeit in self-defense.
In these difficult times we must never forget the value of human life, even the lives of our adversaries. We must do what we have to do to survive, and succeed. Yet, we must do all that we can to ensure that this does not become our second nature, a form of habit. “Our ways are ways of peace”, they have always been and will always be. In order to acquire that peace we often need to fight for it, but waging war is not our inherent way, and can never be. We must stand firm in our resolve to achieve our objectives, but whatever we do, we must never forget the value of human life. There is no more definitive animal act than that of killing, and there is no greater antithesis to that act than avodah in the Mishkan. In order that Pinchas be able to return to his correct place, and do what he does best, he needs the help of Hashem – a covenant of Peace.
Yet, even with this powerful message in mind, there seems to be immense significance in the fact that specifically Pinchas, specifically the Kohen, the ohev shalom, did this zealous act. One might have expected Yehoshua or Calev, to stand up in front of the people, as they had done forty years previously, so why is it specifically Pinchas who performs this necessary, but extreme act?
There are two very strong messages that one can learn from this:
Firstly: The Talmud in the fourth chapter of Berachot, relates that as heresy increased, our leaders decided that it was necessary to add an additional blessing to the Amidah, a blessing that prayed for the destruction of slanderers and heretics from within the Jewish people. We can assume that the situation had become so severe, that our Rabbis had no alternative but to institute into our daily prayers a blessing for the demise of our enemies from within. However, when deciding who would author this additional blessing, the Rabbis were careful to choose a man of such caliber that they could be sure that there would be no subjective hate in his prayer – Shmuel Hakatan. As Rav Hirsch said so beautifully, “fight the ideology, not the people”. One must always keep ones eye on the true objective, not lose sight of where one is heading. Shmuel Hakatan, was sincere, and humble enough in order to ensure that no degree of personal subjective hate be included in the form of this extra bracha.
Applying similar logic, we could say that specifically Pinchas, specifically a spiritual man, and not a warrior, did this extreme act of zealous vengeance on behalf of Hashem, in order that the people realize that this is not the norm. This was an act of objective truth, performed by a man who could not have been further away from such behavior in his nature. This was an act of necessity, and necessity only.
Secondly: The Mishna in Avot tells us that we should be like the students of Aharon – lovers of peace (ohev shalom) and pursuers of peace (rodef shalom). Rabbi Yitzchak Bernstein (of blessed memory), once commented on the above Mishna, that in our context “ohev” and “rodef” can be explained as two opposites. At times our spiritual leaders are expected to show warmth and loving, to love peace, but there will be occasions when they will be required to chase peace away, to rodef shalom. There are instances where compromise or peaceful short term solutions can lead to long term disaster, in cases like these the leader must drive away such possibilities, even if they appear to be “rodef shalom”, even if by doing so they lose popularity and standing in the community. According to this notion, we could easily understand as to why specifically Pinchas should perform the extreme act that he did. It is only when one is prepared to do what is necessary, and not what is popular, that one is defined as a true leader. It is only when Pinchas shows that he is not simply dedicated to Hashem in the peace and tranquility of the Tabernacle, but that he is dedicated to Hashem in the battle for truth, in the helter-skelter “real world”, that he shows himself to be a true leader. The message that Pinchas so beautifully portrays to the people is that it is not the place that makes the man, but the man that makes the place.
The Three Weeks:
Even though these days are difficult days for Am Yisrael, in Israel we continue to fight for our physical independence, whereas in the Diaspora we fight for our spiritual existence, I am encouraged by the paradox provided for us in Hilchot Tisha Be’Av.
On the one hand, we are Halachically defined as mourners, we enter the fast as mourners after a burial, by eating egg dipped in ashes. We are forbidden to greet one another. We are forbidden to learn any Torah not directly relating to the day itself or to mourning in general. We do not wear shoes, and we sit on the floor – at least until midday. We are in fact sitting Shiva for the destruction of the Temple.
Yet whereas mourning in general decreases in its intensity – shiva, sheloshim, shana, yahrzeit. In our case the mourning over the three weeks slowly increases in its intensity. We begin with the basic restrictions of hair cutting, shaving, music, and weddings – the issurim generally relating to the year of mourning. Then during the nine days, we take upon ourselves the restrictions of sheloshim. Finally on Tisha Be’Av itself, we sit shiva. The message is clear. When a relative passses away, essentially they go to a better place. Olam Habah is the destination of Am Yisrael. There can therefore be no long term mourning for someone who has reached the destination that we all are meant to yearn for. Time is thus generally the great healer, and the intensity of our sadness at the loss of someone very close, slowly decreases with the knowledge and belief that they are in the company of our great leaders, in Shamayim. Hard though it may be to come to terms with, it is a long term good.
However, when mourning the destruction of the Bet Mikdash, it is only slowly over the years that we understand the greatness of our loss. The spiritual level of our people that brings upon itself destruction, is such that it no longer appreciates the meaning of Mikdash in its truest sense, and when it is taken away, it is a loss, but one that we feel that we can deal with. Yet as time goes by, we see the emptiness, the pointlessness of the objectives of the western world today. Slowly but surely we begin to understand the enormity of loss that we have when we live in a time of exile. Our mourning slowly but surely increases as the days and years develop. What we must realize is that as soon as we reach the right level, as soon as we truly understand what we are missing, that is when the redemption will come. When we really want redemption it will come, because that will be the truest sign that we are ready for it.
To my mind this is the reason as to why we do not say tachanun or selichot on Tisha Beav. If we are truly mourning on Tisha Beav, if we reach the madrega where this day will be of such pain to us, if we are sitting shiva as we would for our closest relative, then this will be the surest indication that redemption is on the way.
Yet we must realize that the concept of redemption should not be mistaken to mean, salvation from a specific situation, escape from a particular predicament. We should not want redemption simply because the situation at present is difficult. Our yearning for geula is based on a realization that the Bet Hamikdash and all that it stands for, that Avodat Hashem should be the central issue in our life. When that is what we are mourning about, and not temporary discomfort. When we are excited by the prospects of living in Eretz Yisrael, of coming to the Mikdash with our sacrifices. When we imagine with enthusiasm the scene on Yom Hakippurim when the Kohen Hagadol exits the Holy of Holies. When we yearn to come to Har Habayit for Simchat Bet Hashoeva. In short when we want redemption for all the rght reasons. When we mourn for the lack of reality of Am Yisrael, Be’Eretz Yisrael im Torat Yisrael then Tisha Be’Av will surely become, immediately a chag. The more we truly mourn, the more we understand in the depths of our heart what exile is, the more we yearn, the closer we come to geula.
I hope and pray that we will be together in three weeks time at this very place from which I have the honor and merit to write from, celebrating our redemption. I hope and pray, that this Yom Kippur we will stand in awe and rejoice together as red turns to white. There is much work to do, but the window of opportunity is wide open.