Double Meaning of the Knife
In the introductory part of our morning prayers we recite the Torah chapter dealing with the Patriarch Avraham preparing to offer his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice to G-d, and we appeal to Heaven to have mercy on us in the merit of this great deed. One of the passages in this chapter of the akeida serves as a source for two rules regarding the shechita slaughtering of animals, one general and the other specific to sacrifices:
"And Avraham extended his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son" (Bereishet 22:10)
The use of the term "took the knife" rather than "prepared a knife" led the gemara (Mesechta Chulin 16a) to conclude that the sharp instrument used for shechita, whether it be a stone or a reed, must be detached from its source. In our gemara this same passage is identified as the source for the rule that the shechita of sacrifices may be done only with a knife and not with any other sharp instrument.
This is deduced from the fact that the specific term "knife" is used rather than "a cutting instrument". This insistence on a metal vessel, explains Tosefot, applies only to sacrifices, because all of the service performed in regard to them was done with sacred vessels, as opposed to the shechita of animals for secular use.
One problem arises, however, in extending this requirement of a knife to the shechita of all sacrifices. Yitzchak, after all, was intended to be offered as an olah sacrifice. This problem is solved by citing a passage (Vayikra 7:37) which mentions all the different categories of sacrifices in one sentence, indicating that the rule which applies to the olah regarding a knife should be extended to all the other sacrifices.
One problem remains which we offer as a challenge to our readers. To prove that Yitzchak was designated to be an olah the gemara quotes the passage (Bereishet 22:13) about Avraham offering a suddenly appeared ram as "an olah in place of his son". Why does it prefer this to the passage (ibid. 22:3) at the outset of the chapter in which Avraham is explicitly commanded to offer Yitzchak as an olah?
The Making of a Kohen
When did Pinchas, the son of Elazar and grandson of Aharon, achieve the exalted status of kohen?
This question, which is the subject of a debate between two Sages in our gemara, would appear to have a simple answer. After all, isnt someone whose father and grandfather are kohanim automatically a kohen?
In his commentary on Chumash (Bamidbar 25:3) Rashi supplies the answer. After Pinchas courageously brought an end to the plague, which struck the nation because of the sinful action of Zimri, by slaying this prince of the Tribe of Shimon, G-d promised him a "covenant of kehuna forever". This was necessary because only Aharon and his sons had been consecrated as kohanim. Children born to them after their consecration would also be kohanim. But Pinchas had already been born, and could not be considered a kohen either because of consecration or birth.
Rabbi Elazar quoted Rabbi Chanina as stating that this heroic action of Pinchas was indeed the turning point in his career and he then achieved the status of kohen. Rabbi Ashi, on the other hand, calls attention to the fact that nowhere do we find the title kohen attached to the name of Pinchas until he succeeded in averting a civil war among the tribes of Israel. When the conquest of Eretz Yisrael was completed, Yehoshua sent the tribes of Reuven and Gad and half the tribe of Menashe to settle the area on the eastern side of the Jordan River which Moshe had promised them. Upon their arrival they erected a huge altar on the bank of the river separating them from the other tribes. Assuming that this was an act of secession and that the altar was meant to serve as an independent place of worship, the main body of Israel mobilized their forces for war against the suspected separatists. When Pinchas led a delegation to present an ultimatum he was informed that the altar was never intended for worship, but rather as a monument to the unity of all the tribes even though a river separated them. Only after effecting this reconciliation do we find (Yehoshua 22:30) the title "Pinchas the Kohen".
According to this approach Pinchas was indeed promised the status of kohen following his slaying of Zimri. His consecration, as Tosefot explains, required his being anointed, invested with the sacred garments and inauguration with a special mincha service. There was opposition among the people to carrying out this consecration because he had slain the head of a tribe. It was only after he saved the nation from civil war were they reconciled to his becoming a kohen.