Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 11 July 2015 / 24 Tammuz 5775

Parshat Pinchas

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

At the beginning of this parsha G-d grants two rewards to Pinchas for his zealousness in displaying vengeance for his G-d by killing Zimri and Cozbi who had brazenly cohabited in front of the entire congregation. It appears at first glance that both rewards were superfluous. The first, a covenant of peace, is a reward granted to all who avoid transgression. The second, the covenant of the priesthood, was already Pinchas’ entitlement, since he was of the offspring of Aharon the Kohen.

First of all, as the son of Eliezer, son of Aharon the Kohen, Pinchas knew nothing of the sword and battle, and yet he single-handedly stood up and carried out G-d’s vengeance, putting a halt to a plague which threatened to decimate the nation. That is to say, he took vengeance in a situation where G-d could have carried out the vengeance Himself. He also carried out the execution of the two individuals — one of whom was a prince of his own people — in the midst of the congregation, completely oblivious to any danger to himself.

Many felt that Pinchas was threatened by possible revenge from relatives of Zimri, and actually required a constant bodyguard. Additionally, having come into direct contact with death through the execution of Zimri and Cozbi, he might be disqualified from Divine service in the Tabernacle. As a result, it was publicized to the entire congregation that G-d would protect him from his enemies with a special covenant of peace, and not only would he not be disqualified from service in the Tabernacle but his descendants would permanently merit the High Priesthood as well as long life. Standing up for the honor of G-d was such a momentous act on his part that he merited the most honorable service to G-d. In terms of the nation, his act served as an atonement for them, and the permanent priesthood would continue to serve as an atonement for the nation through the Divine Service in the Tabernacle and the Temple to follow. Many other commentators also support the idea that the High Priesthood remained with his descendants throughout both Temple periods.

After mentioning his rewards of the covenant of peace and the covenant of the priesthood, the Torah specifically mentions the names and importance of the two transgressors, to teach us the magnitude of Pinchas’ act. Again, the covenant of peace would be with the blood avengers of Zimri’s tribe, from whom Pinchas would be Divinely protected.

However, there would be no covenant of peace with the Midianites. They were to be totally destroyed. The actual command to go to war with Midianites is given later in Parshat Mattot-Masei. Here the Torah is letting us know the extent of the enmity between Bnei Yisrael and Midian, which is the reason for the total destruction to follow. The Torah tells us that the Midianites harassed Bnei Yisrael with their conspiracies. That is to say, they maliciously conspired to destroy us through the matter of Ba’al Peor, the attempt to curse us through Bilaam and the brazen immorality of Cozbi, the daughter of one of Midian’s most important leaders.

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