Parshas Pinchas

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By Rabbi Shimmy Sternfield

פינחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן השיב את חמתי מעל בני ישראל בקנאו את קנאתי בתוכם
(פרק כ”ה, פסוק י”א)
Pinchas turned back My wrath from upon B’nei Yisrael when he avenged My vengeance among them…

When בני ישראל sinned with the daughters of מואב, Hashem punished them with a plague. Only after פנחס risked his life to defend Hashem’s honor did the plague end. The פסוק in תהלים states, “פנחס stood up and executed justice, and the plague stopped. It was considered as צדקה for him.” The Vilna Gaon asks, what is the connection between what פנחס did and the מצוה of giving charity? Why does the פסוק choose to compare it specifically to צדקה? The Vilna Gaon offers the following insight: The Jews in the desert were instructed to each give a מחצית השקל- half a שקל- “as atonement for their souls.” One reason they were instructed to give a מחצית- half- is because the word מחצית alludes to the idea that the merit of giving צדקה can save someone from death. The letter צ in the center represents צדקה, charity. The letters on either side of the צ spell the word חי- “Live”. The pair of letters further away from the צ (the first and last letter of the word) spell מת- “Die”. This shows us, that through the merit of giving צדקה one brings life closer and pushes death away. Through avenging Hashem’s honor, continues the Goan, פנחס accomplished a similar thing: He stopped the plague, saving people from death. This is hinted to in the words השיב את חמתי used to describe what פנחס did. Literally, those words mean פנחס “returned My [Hashem’s] anger.” The word חמתי contains the same two words as מחצית, only reversed. The word for death- מת- is in the center, and the word for life- חי- is split and is the first and last letter. This shows us, that when Hashem is angry, death is near, while life remains at a distance. פנחס succeeded not only in reversing חמתי, Hashem’s actual anger, but in reversing the message of the letters of חמתי as well. חי became the center, and מת was pushed back. We may now understand, concludes the Gaon, why the פסוק compares what פנחס did to צדקה. Just as צדקה brings life closer and distances death, so too, פנחס brought the plague to a close and saved בני ישראל.

פינחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן
(פרק כ”ה, פסוק י”א)
Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the Kohein

The פרשה opens with mention of the paternal lineage of פנחס, namely that he descended from אהרן. We are told by חז”ל that when פנחס killed זמרי, members of the other שבטים said, “Do you see this man, whose grandfather fattened calves for עבודה זרה? He killed a נשיא!” To silence them, the פסוק notes that פנחס descended from אהרן. How does mentioning אהרן address the taunts of the other שבטים? Reb Yaakov Kamenetsky, זצ”ל, explains, that when one acts out of zealousness, one’s motives may always be challenged. Often, one’s zeal is fueled by a faulty מדה, such as anger, rather than complete devotion to Hashem. If פנחס would not have acted entirely for the sake of serving Hashem, it would be fair to call him a murderer. This was the intention of those who taunted פנחס about his grandfather. They claimed that his actions were not rooted in defending Hashem’s honor, but that they were simply an angry reaction. In response, the Torah testifies that these were the actions of a grandson of אהרן. As חז”ל teach, אהרן “loved peace and chased after peace.” פנחס, who followed in the ways of אהרן, could only have killed זמרי out of pure devotion to Hashem.

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