Parshat Pinchas- Rav Milston Peace at All Costs? “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, 25:11-12) What is this “covenant of peace”? The Ibn Ezra suggests it was a pledge to protect Pinchas from the ire of Zimri’s kinsmen and supporters. Having killed him publicly, Pinchas had not only murdered a prince, but had also humiliated the entire Tribe of Shimon. Therefore he was in need of the extra protection the Almighty grants him through this covenant of peace. The Seforno explains that this Divine protection was a safeguard against mortality. Indeed, Pinchas lived for hundreds of years, serving 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. If so, Pinchas is actually still alive today and destined to be God’s messenger in proclaiming the coming of the Mashiach. Yet when learning Seforno, we cannot help but question regarding the connection between the deed of Pinchas and immortality? Perhaps we can suggest that in return for Pinchas’s open willingness to give up his life in order to sanctify God’s name, the Almighty gifts him with everlasting life. Interestingly, the Kli Yakar suggests Pinchas’s seemingly impulsive action may have led the people to assume a certain friction between him and Moshe Rabbeinu. Pinchas acted without Moshe’s express permission, unintentionally undermining his leadership. Hashem therefore commands Moshe to inform the people there was no internal family politics at stake here. “Behold! I give him my covenant of peace” was actually a statement made by Moshe to clarify the situation for the people. On another level, the Emek Davar comments that any action a person does has an implicit effect on that individual as a human being. Even if the action was done for the right reasons, it does not guarantee there will be no repercussions as a result. When Pinchas kills Zimri, he does the right thing at the right time, yet he still kills two human beings in cold blood. There is clearly a possibility that this kind of act can have an adverse spiritual effect on Pinchas as a human being. According to the Netziv, the covenant of peace is therefore an internal peace. This blessing assures Pinchas that despite any natural psychological repercussions, he will only feel inner peace. This act will not divert him from his true nature of “ohev shalom verodef shalom.” Indeed, whenever I come across the Netziv’s insightful words, I am reminded of a comment attributed to Golda Meir immediately after the Yom Kippur War. She is quoted as saying 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, but we must insist this does not become second nature. “Our ways are ways of peace”; they always have been and always will be. We often need to fight for it, but waging war is not a favorite Jewish pastime and can never be. We must stand firm in our resolve to achieve our objectives but we must never forget the value of human life. The Netziv teaches us a crucial life lesson. We are affected by everything we think, say and do, irrespective of motive. We are our thoughts, speech and actions. Even if we are forced into certain behavior, we must be aware that we may well need to re-balance the inner equilibrium. As we mentioned in the previous sicha, in his very first comments to the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema implores the Oved Hashem to ignore those who ridicule his actions. The Machatzit HaShekel qualifies this instruction by suggesting that even when defending our religious rights, we should be wary of arguments that could lead to insult or worse. Even if our response is valid, it will ultimately affect our inner being. We may be 100% justified in our reaction but we fail to realize the irreparable spiritual damage that could ensue as a result. In general we should be working on our middot, irrespective of extenuating circumstances. We are often justified to respond as we do, but it is not necessarily that justification that we should be looking for – we are aiming to refine ourselves above and beyond the realms of the minimal halachik requirements. We should be aiming to be generous, caring, and sensitive towards everyone and anyone, even if the strict rule of law does not require this of us in certain scenarios; every time ‘we lose it’, we literally lose, albeit momentarily, the image of God with which we were created. And having lost that religious and ethical norm, it is not so simple to retain it. There is no more animalistic act than killing, and there is no greater antithesis to that than Avodah in the Mishkan. Pinchas needs Hashem’s help – this “covenant of peace” – to redress the balance and restore him to his correct place to do what he does best. However, even with this powerful message in mind, why was it specifically Pinchas, the Kohen-elect, the ohev shalom, who performed this zealous act? One might have expected Yehoshua or Calev to take the lead, as they had done 40 years previously, but Pinchas, a relatively unknown Levite? There are two very strong messages here. The first can be better understood by referring to the Talmud in the fourth chapter of Berachot (28b). The Gemara explains that at a time when heresy endangered the future of religious Jewry, our leaders decided it was necessary to add an additional blessing to the Amidah. This blessing asked for the destruction of slanderers and heretics from within the Jewish people. We can assume the situation had become so severe they had no alternative but to pray for the demise of their own enemies from within. However, when deciding who would author this additional blessing, the Rabbis were careful to choose a man they could be sure would harbor no hatred for these people. Shmuel HaKatan, a man renowned for his humility and ways of peace, was asked to compose the prayer so that the essence of the words would be purely spiritual. Rav Hirsch, who himself was renowned for his relentless philosophical battles with the Reform movement, put it beautifully: “Fight the ideology, not the people.” Shmuel HaKatan was sincere and humble enough to ensure that no degree of personal hate be included in this extra bracha. Applying similar logic to our case, we could suggest that Pinchas, a man of spirit and not a warrior, is the right man in the right place; there was a crucial message to be passed on to the people, the force of the message may well have been lost had Yehoshua reacted in such a way, but now that a Levi – ‘a lover of peace and pursuer of peace’ (Pirkei Avot 1:12) had been prompted to kill, the message was clear for all to see. This was an act of pure necessity. Many people do many things in the name of ideology, but more often than not it is a cover-up for some subjective goal. When the Almighty gives Pinchas a covenant of peace it is as if He Himself is acting as a character witness for the accused. If so, we can but conclude that Pinchas’s intentions were the purest of the pure. The second message can be understood by interpreting the above Mishna in a more homiletic fashion. As we explained the Mishna instructs us to be like the students of Aharon, lovers and pursuers of peace (ohev shalom verodef shalom.) Rabbi Yitzchak Bernstein, my teacher and mentor of blessed memory, once commented that “ohev” and “rodef” can be explained as two opposites in our context. Our spiritual leaders are expected to show warmth and loving 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. Here the leader must drive away such temptation, even if he appears to be a “rodef shalom,” and by doing so lose popularity and standing in the community. Now we can easily understand why specifically Pinchas should perform this extreme act. A true leader is prepared to do what is necessary, not what is popular. Pinchas proves his worth by showing he is not simply dedicated to Hashem in the peace and tranquility of the Tabernacle, but also in the battle for truth in the “real world.” That is all well and good, but why does such action merit a covenant of peace? The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom, a derivative of the word ‘Shalem,’ which means complete. Perhaps we can suggest that Hashem proclaims Pinchas to be ‘shalem’ in response to his true show of leadership. He is complete in the sense he is not distracted by egocentricity. He will do what is right irrespective of the personal repercussions of his actions, and thus, by definition, he merits an inner peace. A true leader will pursue peace when necessary and chase it away if need be. The opinion polls and international pressure will be of no relevance; the only guideline we have is right and wrong. And in this we are all leaders in our own lives. When deciding how to act or react, we must do what is right, not what will bring us popularity. The most effective teachers and parents are the ones who are prepared to be cruel to be kind. And the happiest and most accomplished individuals in society are those who will relentlessly judge a situation with the good of others in mind and not with the aim of personal gain. Although Aharon HaKohen was renowned for his ways of peace, both he and his descendants never shirked responsibility. If the need arose, they would face the community head-on in order to guarantee the long-term survival of Am Yisrael. If we are to successfully meet the challenges of today, be it compromise in our personal lives or peace in the Middle East, we desperately need a leadership who will be guided by nothing but the Truth.