As a follow up to Pinchas’ great act at the end of Parshas Balak, this week’s parshah begins with his reward. At the end of last week’s parshah, Zimri, the leader of Shevet Shimon, committed adultery with the princess of Midian. Following the halacha, Pinchas adopted the attitude of a ‘kanai’, a zealot for the honor of Hashem, and immediately killed Zimri and the woman. For this, he was rewarded by being made a Kohen.
“ פִּינְחָס בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן הֵשִׁיב אֶת חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת קִנְאָתִי בְּתוֹכָם ” “Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen has turned My anger away from the children if Yisrael by his zealously avenging Me among them.” (Bamidbar 25:11). Rashi asks how come the pasuk needs to tell me Pinchas’ lineage back to Aharon, after all we already mentioned it exactly the same way in Parshas Balak! He explains that Pinchas’ grandfather from his mother’s side was not Jewish and worshipped idols. After Pinchas killed Zimri, the people were demeaning him by saying ‘how could someone with such poor ancestry had the audacity to kill one of the nation’s greatest men!’ Therefore, Hashem said his name with the ancestry going back to Aharon to show that Pinchas was indeed from a special bloodline.
However, this does not fully answer the question. The entire nation knew that Pinchas was Aharon’s grandson and they still made fun of him for his other grandfather! Why would putting Aharon’s name in the pasuk change anything?
The Sifsei Chachamim gives a different take on this pasuk than Rashi to answer the question. The people weren’t making fun of Pinchas because of his ancestry, rather they believed that Pinchas did not act because of Hashem’s honor; rather, it was because of Moshe’s. Zimri acted out in deliberate disregard for Moshe’s authority as the messenger of Hashem, and as Pinchas was a close student of Moshe’s as well as his great nephew, the people believed that Pinchas was really defending Moshe when he went to kill Zimri. Therefore, the pasuk mentions that he was Aharon’s grandson in order to prove that Pinchas acted for the honor of Hashem. But how does this prove anything?
The Gemarah in Sanhedrin (82b) says that Pinchas, like his grandfather Aharon, succeeded in quelling Hashem’s anger against Bnei Yisrael. Aharon did it by bringing the incense offering after the story of Korach, while Pinchas did it here when he killed Zimri. Because they shared this quality, the pasuk says that Pinchas is from Aharon. This connection proves that Pinchas acted purely for the honor of Hashem.
The Ohr HaChaim takes this idea of a connection between Aharon and Pinchas a little deeper. We know that Aharon was at least partially responsible for the building of the Golden Calf. (See Shemos 32:35.) Aharon was therefore, somewhat responsible for the deaths of many members of Bnei Yisrael. However, Pinchas came and redeemed many members of Bnei Yisrael by killing Zimri before Hashem’s anger took over and more people died. The pasuk connects the two of them to show how Pinchas came and rescued Bnei Yisrael in the same way that Aharon had been responsible for them.
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