Looking at Lineage

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Parshat Pinchas continues the narrative of the previous parshah. Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon Hakohain had upheld Hashem's honor by zealously killing Zimri, the prince of the Tribe of Shimon, and Cozbi, a Midianite princess. With this act, the plague that had struck and killed 24,000 of Bnei Yisroel in punishment for their involvement with the Midianite women and their idol worship abated.

Our parshah begins by Hashem's repeating Pinchas' lineage, "...the son of Elazar the son of Aharon...," and validating the correctness of his actions by gifting Pinchas with he covenant of peace and with perpetual kehunah/priesthood.

To understand the dynamics within these verses, Rashi and our Sages fill in the blanks between the lines. The most obvious question to which all else is corollary is the repetition and emphasis on Pinchas' lineage. Ordinarily, the Torah lists the person's name and the name of his father. Here, the Torah goes back to the grandfather, Aharon, not once but twice. Obviously, the Pinchas-Aharon connection, together with the gift of priesthood and the covenant of peace, must be explored.

While Bnei Yisroel were thunderstruck at the desecration of God's name, they were also angry at Pinchas for killing such a great man along with this princess. What motivated this dismay, this anger? Rashi cites the Medrash from the Talmud Yerushalmi verbalizing their argument. They accused Pinchas of murder, of being the grandson of an idol worshiping priest who fattened calves for idol sacrifices. [Elazar, Pinchas' father, had married one of the daughters of Yitro, as had Moshe.] But Yitro and his daughters had converted. Nevertheless, Hashem was defending Pinchas' honor by declaring him to bear the trademark of his paternal grandfather, Aharon, rather of of the originally idol worshiping Yitro.

The Chasam Sofer sheds some light on the ambiguity presented in this incident. While all the other men were enticed to go out of the Israelite camp to meet with the alien women, Cozbi alone entered the camp and approached Zimri. The Chasam Sofer suggests that Zimri may have assumed she was entering the Jewish camp hoping to convert. Under those circumstances, she would be permitted to Zimri, just as Tzipporah was permitted to Moshe Rabbenu, and as his mother was married to his father Elazar. The argument to Pinchas was that just as Pinchas himself had risen from those lowly roots, so could Cozbi have risen to become a righteous woman.

As the Shem M'Shmuel notes, gentile idol worship is focused on external appearances, the fattened calves, while Judaism is focused on the internal, the blood life force. Hashem was testifying to the correctness of Pinchas' action. Pinchas was looking at the internal, and realized that Zimri's intentions could not have been totally pure. In his action, he was truly the grandson of Aharon, not of the idol worshiping priest.

We get a completely different perspective from Rabbi Wolfson in Emunat Itecha. Rabbi Wolfson cites the Rema of Pano who was an expert in the area of gilgulim/reincarnation. In a fascinating interpretation, he suggests that Zimri was reincarnated as Rabbi Akiva, descended from converts, while Cozbi was reincarnated as the wife of the convert Turnusrufus. According to the medrash, Zimri pulled Cozbi into Moshe's tent by the forelock of her hair and demanded to know if she was permitted to him. When Moshe unequivocally answered that she was forbidden, Zimri challenged Moshe's marriage to Tzipporah.

According to Rabbi Wolfson, Zimri's motive was for the sake of Heaven. Just as King David would later marry princesses from multiple nations to convert them and hope to bring their nations into the fold of monotheism, so too did Zimri hope to unite the world under Hashem's sovereignty by marrying the princess of the mightiest nation of the time, thus bringing about the arrival of Moshiach. Zimri did not approach Cozbi, but brought her to his brothers, closer to Yiddishkeit. But Zimri was impatient and did not follow proper protocol. The laws derived from "the beautiful woman captured in war" specify that, among other requirements, the woman is to have her hair shorn. The medrash points out that Zimri pulled her by a lock of her hair, indicating that she had not committed to conversion.

These details play out in the life of Rabbi Akiva so many centuries later. Mirroring the 24,000 Israelites who perished in the plague resulting from the involvement of the Jewish men with the Midianite women, 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva perished in a plague of their day. Rabbi Akiva himself was killed through the torture of iron combs, usually used on hair, to rip his skin from his body.

Eliyahu Hanavi, the harbinger of the redemption, is widely accepted as a reincarnation of Pinchas. With prophetic insight, Pinchas understood that the timing was not right and Zimri's procedure, however well intended, was also wrong for hastening the redemption. Instead of hastening the redemption, Zimri's action would further delay the redemption. Bnei Yisroel sensed Zimri's motivation and therefore wanted to excommunicate Pinchas. Only with Hashem's intervention was the nation convinced that Pinchas' action was correct.

Nevertheless, the question for us is how strongly do we desire the redemption? What are we doing to hasten the arrival of Moshiach? As Rabbi Elias suggests in Ani Ma'amin, it is not enough to be patiently waiting for the redemption. We should be looking for opportunities to bring the redemption, and we should be acting with a fullness of heart and pure intentions, without any personal agendas.

The Sifsei Chaim points out how slim the distinction is between an act purely for the sake of Heaven and one which may contain a minimum trace of self interest. On the Yomim Noraim we pray that Hashem's awe should be apparent on all His creations. Certainly, if even one or two people don't accept Hashem's sovereignty, His glory is diminished in the world, however minimally. But, asks the Sifsei Chaim, is our concern truly only for Hashem's honor, or are we more concerned with our own perception and sadness at the diminution of His honor? The Torah itself validated Pinchas' motive.

Both Yitro and Aharon's actions, Pinchas' two grandfathers, can be ambiguous, sans Hashem's validation of their motives, writes Rabbi Sorotskin in Meged Yosef. Yitro fattened calves for idol worship. Did that add joy to his idol worshiping days? How do we interpret Yitro's rejoicing at hearing of all the miracles Hashem had performed for Bnei Yisroel? Was he rejoicing at the salvation of Bnei Yisroel, or was he happy and bloodthirsty at the fate of the Egyptians? Similarly, one may fault Aharon as being complicit in fashioning the golden calf. But Aharon's motivation was to keep Bnei Yisroel from sinning, although he failed in the attempt. The Torah here validates Pinchas' motive as arising from the love for Bnei Yisroel, like the love of Aharon, of trying to end the plague that was killing his people. We are urged to interpret Pinchas' action, and later those of his reincarnation Eliyahu in a positive light. That is why when we sing of Eliyahu Hanavi, we add zachur latov, to be interpreted and remembered positively in spite of seeming ambiguity.

This is a challenge we face whenever we confront a leader, and indeed every person. We are urged to judge them with a favorable eye, writes Rabbi Beyfus. And Rabbi Kofman adds that when we judge others favorably, we are creating angels to advocate favorably for ourselves.

However, there is another aspect also to be considered. Motivations and actions do not remain in a vacuum of their own time and place, asserts Rabbi Kokos in Siach Mordechai. They impact future generations. In some mystical way, they are inherited just like physical DNA. [How often do we say, "He thinks/acts/speaks just like his father." CKS] Bnei Yisroel were concerned that within Pinchas was a spot of cruelty inherited from his calf fattening grandfather that was inherent in his attack on Zimri. Was Pinchas taking that kind of zealotry, used for avodah zora to this situation, asks Rabbi Druck? Was Pinchas being cruel as a priest who gleefully fattens a calf, knowing it is destined for slaughter? But the Torah testifies that Pinchas' genes are those of Aharon who always acted out of love for Bnei Yisroel, not out of zealotry, writes Rabbi Reiss.

In a complete reversal from these ideas, the Sifsei Daas suggests that Bnei Yisroel were not critiquing Pinchas' act. Rather, they wanted to do the act themselves. They wanted to know why Pinchas "jumped the gun" and merited acting for Hashem's honor. But Moshe understood that the zealotry of Bnei Yisroel did not arise spontaneously from them as it did within Pinchas. Rather, it was Pinchas who, by his leadership, inspired their teshuvah. As Rabbi Reiss points out in the terminology of the Torah, "... When he [instilled] his zealotry for Me within them," when he inspired them to do teshuvah.

Pinchas was acting for eternity. He awakened within us such love for Hakodosh Boruch Hu that we would never want to disappoint Him. That love is a hallmark of his grandfather Aharon, and it continues to pulsate within us to this day.