In last week’s parshah, the Bnei Yisrael were showered with praises for their purity and modesty. But by the end of the parshah, this was not the case. After the plot to curse the Jews failed, Balak and Balaam tried their next idea, which did not. 24,000 men sinned with the women of Moav, including the Nasi of Shevet Shimon, Zimri. Moshe and the rest of the Elders were paralyzed as Zimri challenged them to tell him he was wrong. However, one man did not stay quiet. Pinchas, the son of Elazar and the grandson of Aharon HaKohen, went straight away and killed Zimri before he had even finished sinning. For this sanctification of Hashem’s name, he was handsomely rewarded in this week’s Parshah.
This week’s Parshah starts off with Hashem telling Moshe what Pinchas’ reward will be. “...לכן אמר הנני נתן לו את בריתי שלום. והיתה לו ולזרעו אחריו ברית כהנת עולם...” “Therefore, say: Behold! I give him my covenant of peace. And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal Kehunah” (Bamidbar 25:12-13). What exactly is this ברית that Hashem gave to Pinchas and what is the difference between the covenant of peace and of the covenant promising him Kehunah (priesthood) forever?
As we always do, let us see Rashi’s explanation first. He explains that “בריתי שלום” means that because of the great act that Pinchas did for Hashem, Hashem promised him eternal thanks, like someone who owes someone a favor and promises him friendship forever. Some commentators explain that Hashem promised Pinchas safety from Zimri’s family that none of them would try to take revenge. The Chizkuni adds in an interesting explanation. The halacha is that any Kohen who kills can no longer take part in Bircas Kohanim, the special brachah that the Kohanim give Bnei Yisrael. Hashem told Pinchas that he was still allowed to participate since he killed completely לשם שמים, for the sake of heaven.
Two more explanations are given for “בריתי שלום”. There is a halacha that you are not allowed to determine a halacha in front of your rebbi on punishment of death. With Moshe Rabbeinu standing right there, Pinchas had no permission to act even though he knew what the halacha was! The Kli Yakar explains that this is what Hashem promises Pinchas. After Bnei Yisrael saw him act in front of Moshe, some of them might have thought that he was guilty and should be killed. Hashem told Moshe to tell Bnei Yisrael that this wasn’t the case, since Pinchas had defended Moshe’s honor as well (Zimri was taunting Moshe), he was not to be punished. The last explanation is from the Seforno who says that this “peace treaty” was with the מלאך המות, the Angel of Death. This means one of two things, either Pinchas would live a long time, we see in Sefer Shoftim that Pinchas was alive over 300 years later, or like the Medrash tells us, that Pinchas is Eliyahu HaNavi and is still alive and well till this very day.
Now for the second ברית, the “ברית כהנת עולם” “a covenant of eternal Kehunah”. Rashi explains that when Hashem appointed Aharon and his sons to be Kohanim, he did not include any of their descendants who were already alive in this appointment; you had to have been born after this point in order to become a Kohen from then on. This meant that Pinchas was not a Kohen since he had been born way before this time. However, after this action, Hashem rewarded Pinchas by making him a Kohen. (For the reason why this was his reward, see last year’s dvar torah. Link below.) The Ibn Ezra adds that every Kohen Gadol from this point on was a descendent of Pinchas.
The Ohr HaChaim grabs onto an interesting point here. He says that if Hashem was giving Pinchas the gift of Kehunah now, then there are two ways He could have given it to him: either that Hashem allowed him to become a Kohen together with his father and grandfather in spite of the fact that he was born after Hashem had made Aharon a Kohen, or that He gave it to him as a present just for him. In an interesting explanation, the Ohr HaChaim explains that it would be much better for this gift to have been given the first way rather than as a present. First off, if given the first way, Pinchas’ Kehunah is now connected directly to Aharon’s. Therefore, any complaints which had been made against Aharon’s status and answered could not be made against Pinchas. But if this was a present, then it’s a completely new story with Pinchas and his status can also be disputed. Secondly, if this was a present, it was only given to Pinchas, not to his children. But if it was given the first way, Pinchas plugs right into Aharon’s Kehunah and it would go to his children like it went to Aharon’s.
The Ohr HaChaim explains that despite these problems, Hashem wanted to specifically give the Kehunah to Pinchas as a present rather than as a continuation of Aharon. This was to show that Pinchas’ actions were so great that he deserved to become a Kohen completely of his own accord with no help from his grandfather at all. In order to fix the two problems we mentioned, Hashem also gave him “בריתי שלום”, His own personal guarantee of peace, that no one would challenge him. And he also told him that the Kehunah would be “לו ולזרעו אחריו”, for him and his children after him.
While we cannot receive the same reward as Pinchas, (we cannot become Kohanim unless we were born into it,) the lesson here applies to us as well. Pinchas did not act thinking that he would be rewarded, he acted only in order to preserve the honor of Hashem. Little did he know that as a result of his actions he would be given his life’s dream, to serve Hashem on the highest level possible as the Kohen Gadol. Who knows what our own actions may accomplish. Perhaps if we also serve Hashem purely for his sake, Hashem will change our fortunes as well, and grant us what we pray for.
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