Parshas Balak ends with the story of Pinchas killing Zimri, the Nasi of Shevet Shimon, as he was involved in an aveirah with Cozby, the princess of Midian. The halachah is when a person commits Gilui Arayos with a non-Jewish woman, any קנאי (translated as zealot for lack of a better term) is allowed to go and kill him. When Pinchas saw what Zimri was doing, he went straight away and killed both of them! In this week’s parshah, we learn how Pinchas was rewarded.
When Aharon and his sons became Kohanim, the Kehunah was given to their descendants as well. However, this included only unborn children. Anyone who was already born at the time, including Pinchas, did not become Kohanim. So, at the beginning of this week’s parshah, Hashem rewards Pinchas by making him a Kohen. This sounds all good and wonderful but how is it possible? How can someone just become a Kohen? After all, a Kohen is born not made. You can answer simply that Pinchas did a huge Kiddush Hashem, deserving of becoming a Kohen, but there have been many people throughout history who have done huge Kiddush Hashems. Why did they not become Kohanim?
There is the possibility of answering on a personal level pertaining to Pinchas. Pinchas showed an enormous commitment to Hashem and his zealotry clearly showed his desire to be involved completely in the service of Hashem. Hashem puts us in certain circumstances which allow us to reach certain levels. If we reach those levels and show our desire to reach even higher, Hashem gives us even greater opportunities. After this act on Pinchas’ part, the only circumstance where he could devote himself even more to Hashem was through being a Kohen, a job where you work in the Beis Hamikdash and your entire livelihood comes from Hashem, basically, a life of complete commitment to God. However, this doesn’t completely answer our question. Pinchas was already a Levi, whose position in the Beis Hamikdash was also a position of great importance and also prevented him from making a living. So why did he need to become a Kohen? Furthermore, this is still not a good enough reason to change the normal process of becoming a Kohen, namely, by being born one!
A better way of looking at this is by examining the actual act that Pinchas did. He is called a קנאי, so what is it about being a קנאי that becoming a Kohen is a fitting reward? Let us examine what it means to be a קנאי and maybe then we can understand what the connection is to the Kehunah.
The word “קנאי” comes from the word קנאה, jealousy. Someone who is a קנאי for Hashem is someone who is jealous in place of Hashem. What does that mean? How can you be jealous in place of someone else, either it’s your jealousy or theirs? The Ramchal in his sefer Mesillas Yesharim explains love as having three branches with one of these branches being קנאות. What does this mean? When someone you love is being abused in some fashion, the first thing you do (or are supposed to do) is immediately stand up for that person and do what needs to be done to restore that person’s safety and respect. When you make that person’s honor so important that it hurts you to see him disrespected, when you make someone’s agenda as important as your own, and you act on that feeling, you are called a קנאי. When Pinchas went to kill Zimri, he wasn’t worried that Zimri was an important person, he wasn’t worried about what the general populace would think of him, Pinchas, no more special than anyone else, taking care of business himself. It hurt Pinchas so much to see Hashem’s honor being desecrated right before his eyes that he acted right away. He knew the halachah allowed him to kill Zimri. He took a spear, and went and killed him. Pinchas loved Hashem enough that this desecration of Hashem’s name in public drove him to (permissible) murder. And someone who loves Hashem loves everything about Hashem.
My mashgiach, Rabbi Elchonon Fishman, explained to us in a shmooz that the parshah introduces Pinchas as “פִּינְחָס בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן” “Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the Kohen” (25:11). There was only one Elazar at the time who was a Kohen, that should have been enough to identify who Pinchas was. Why did the Torah bother to include Aharon also in the introduction? He answered that Aharon is described as “אוהב את הבריות ומקרבן לתורה” “one who loved people and brought them closer to Torah” (Pirkei Avos 1:12). He was prominent amongst the nation not only as the Kohen Gadol, but also as the person who brought peace between families, neighbors, and friends. And because Aharon’s love for the people was so great, he brought them closer to Torah, the most precious gift anyone would want to give! Aharon was the first Kohen Gadol. The Kohen Gadol represents the entire nation. When he brings a korban, he brings it for everybody, when he goes into the Kodesh Hakedoshim on Yom Kippur, he goes in alone, but representing the entire nation while he is in there. He walks around the whole day with the names of the Shevatim on his shoulders as part of the Eifod (apron), and on his chest as part of the Choshen (breastplate). He has the responsibility of keeping the entire nation on the right path. A Kohen Gadol’s entire life is about thinking and caring for the nation, and as we said before, someone who loves Hashem loves everything about Hashem, including his children and chosen nation. Meaning us, the Jewish people.
Pinchas had this same middah as Aharon, he loved every single Jew so much. Why? Because the kavod of the Jewish people was as important to him as was the kavod of Hashem! That’s why the Torah introduces him as the grandson of Aharon, he inherited that quality from his grandfather. When Pinchas went to kill Zimri, it wasn’t only to defend the kavod of Hashem, it was to defend the kavod of the entire nation! He was concerned that the nation should not be embarrassed by someone committing a horrible aveirah in public.
Now it’s simple to understand why Pinchas became a Kohen. Who was more qualified to become the next Kohen Gadol than the person who risked his life to defend the honor of Klal Yisrael! Additionally, according to one commentary, all future Kohanim Gedolim were descended from Pinchas. Based on this explanation, this makes complete sense. This quality which they inherited from their grandfather is the perfect gene to perform the job of Kohen Gadol.
While we might not be on the level of pure קנאות, we can still try to replicate this middah of Aharon and Pinchas, this pure love of every Jew leading us to do everything in our power to help them, care for them, and ultimately give them the ultimate gift of Torah. To start off, we must take care that we treat the respect of every person as our own. Through this, we will become true קנאים and defenders of the honor of Hashem and Klal Yisrael.