Pride: the Source of all Sins
It is written, “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and tell them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a soul among his people” (Leviticus 21:1). What is the meaning of “soul”? We may understand it as referring to the body of a dead person, to his 248 members and 365 tendons, which are called the “people” of his body (see Nedarim 32b). A man should not make this “people” impure through pride.
The Zohar has questions about the proximity of Parsha Kedoshim to Parsha Emor (Zohar III:68a). At the beginning of Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:2), the verse enjoins the entire community of Israel to sanctify itself, which is why in Parsha Emor the Kohanim are commanded to be holy as well. The members of the tribe of Levi are also warned about this in the verse that states, “To the Levites shall you speak and you shall say to them…” (Numbers 18:26). This is in order that everyone be holy and pure, even the great, and that they guard their 248 members that correspond to the positive mitzvot (Makot 23b) and sanctify themselves with a great level of holiness.
We must also explain why the Kohanim and the Levites are addressed separately here in Parsha Emor, since in Parsha Kedoshim the Torah warns all the Jewish people (which includes the Kohanim and Levites) concerning holiness.
The reason for this apparent redundancy is that without the specific warning to the Kohanim and Levites in Parsha Emor, we could have erroneously thought that since they are more holy than the rest of the Children of Israel, they don’t need extra safeguards for holiness, and so we can put our trust in them. A special warning is therefore addressed to them. Precisely because they are the holiest ones, they should consecrate themselves lest they arrive at pride, which resembles indecency (see below). And it is precisely they, who are found in the Tent of Meeting, who need extra sanctification, in the spirit of what the Sages have said: “The greater the man, the greater his evil inclination” (Sukkah 52a). This is the explanation given by the Gemara for the repetition “Say to the priests … and tell them” (Leviticus 21:1). It is in order to warn both the great and the lesser (Yebamot 114a). This means that the Torah, having warned the lesser (the entire community of Israel) in Parsha Kedoshim, now also warns the great (the Kohanim and Levites) so that they too should guard themselves from the sin of pride.
In Parsha Pinchas we find the following words: “Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the priest” (Numbers 25:11). The Sages explain that the tribes were scorning him and saying, “Have you seen that son of Puti, whose mother’s father [Jethro] fattened [pitem] calves for idol worship, and he went and killed a prince of a tribe of Israel?” This is why the verse in Numbers states that Pinchas descended from Aaron (Sotah 43a; Rashi ibid.).
The following requires an explanation:
1. Why did the tribes scorn Pinchas? He had killed Zimri ben Salu, prince of the tribe of Shimon (Numbers 25:14), since he was liable for death, and furthermore Pinchas had killed him with Moses’ permission! Was this a reason to scorn him?
2. Why did they make Pinchas recall the sins of his maternal grandfather Jethro, since he had repented, converted, and become righteous (Mechilta Jethro)? In fact, Jethro became so righteous that he merited adding a parsha bearing his name to the Torah (Shemot Rabba 27:7). Was it necessary to associate Jethro’s previous way of life to his grandson Pinchas?
3. If Pinchas was reminded of his grandfather’s sins, why was this done precisely in connection with the incident of Zimri? Why was this not done in another situation?
That which awakened the anger of the tribes against Pinchas was that he was a Kohen, and that by killing Zimri he put himself in danger of becoming impure by a corpse if the guilty party died by his hand (without mentioning the fact that Pinchas himself could have died in the fight). This is why he was not given the benefit of the doubt, and why his jealously was not attributed to a love of Heaven. Actually, his actions must have been for Heaven’s sake, otherwise he would not have thought that he had to act before men greater and better than himself in carrying out G-d’s vengeance. And even if this was done with Moses’ permission, as the Sages have said (Sanhedrin 82a), the tribes believed that despite everything, killing a prince from one of the tribes of Israel was an act of pride. The simple fact that he entered the tent and saw the heinousness of their sin was for them proof that he was motivated by pride. Now we know that pride contains an aspect of idolatry, indecency, and murder. Pinchas therefore put himself in danger by a pride that resembles idolatry, and he also experienced seeing a shameless spectacle. Why then did he enter the tent, since he risked undergoing all these things?
The tribes then asked themselves from where this pride came, and concluded that it had its root with his grandfather Jethro, who was an idolater before having repented (Shemot Rabba 1:38). This trait had been transmitted to his descendants, and even though later on he became righteous, this root had remained bad. It was in this way that they explained why Pinchas failed to comply with Scripture’s warning to the Kohanim to protect themselves from pride, as we have explained on the verse that states, “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and tell them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a soul among his people” (Leviticus 21:1).
Because of all of this, the verse mentions the fact that he descended from Aaron, which means that even though he also descended from Jethro, his actions had their source in Aaron, who along with Moses said, “What are we?” (Exodus 16:7). In Pinchas there was nothing but humility, which is why many miracles were performed for him on that occasion and why he was saved from all harm (Sanhedrin 82b).
All this occurred because of Aaron’s merit. It is true that a man who demonstrates pride has certainly inherited a portion of his ancestor’s faults. Yet but because Pinchas carried within himself the virtues of Aaron, who was humble and never acted other than for the love of Heaven, the ancestry of Jethro did not manifest itself in him, to the point that the Torah testifies concerning Pinchas: “He jealously avenged Me among them” (Numbers 25:11). He did so without any ulterior motives, but rather solely for the love of Heaven.