Comparing the Devotion of Pinchas to that of Adam

It is written, “Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the priest saw, and he stood up from amid the assembly and he took a spear in his hand” (Numbers 25:7). The Gemara explains: “He saw what was occurring and remembered the Halachah” (Sanhedrin 82a). There are several points that must be understood about this Parsha, in which it is said, “Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the priest turned back My wrath … I give him My covenant of peace” (Numbers 25:11-12).

1. The statement “He saw what was occurring and remembered the Halachah” must be properly understood. What did he see? What case in history was similar, so much so that from it he could conclude what was appropriate to do concerning Zimri ben Salu? What exactly was the Halachah that he remembered?

2. On the verse that states, “he took a spear,” the Sages have explained: “By the merit of the spear that he took in his ‘hand’, the priests merited the ‘shoulder’ from the portion of the sacrifices that are given to the priest” (Rashi, Deuteronomy 18:3). What is the connection here? Not only that, but was there really a need to state “in his hand,” for is there another way to take a spear?

3. On the verse that states, “and he took a spear in his hand,” the Zohar says that Pinchas saw the letter / (mem) flying up to the sky. He then seized it and joined it to his name (Zohar III:237a), which had the numerical value of 208 (also equal to the numerical value of the letters 9 and (). Together these three letters yield the word (/9 (“spear”, having a numerical value of 248 in Hebrew), which means that he invested all his 248 members in the performance of this mitzvah. Now to accomplish it, 365 tendons are also required. Where, therefore, were Pinchas’ tendons to be found during the performance of this mitzvah?

In addition, concerning the verse that states, “Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the priest,” the Gemara asks why the Torah highlights the fact that he was descendant of Aaron (Sanhedrin 82a). The Gemara answers: Because the tribes disparaged him by saying, “Have you seen that son of Puti, whose mother's father fattened calves for idol worship?” The verse therefore found it necessary to call to mind that he was a descendant of Aaron. Yet why did this criticism of Pinchas express itself at that time? It could have manifested itself well before! Furthermore, did he not at that time have the status of being Aaron’s grandson? It must also be understood why, in the name Pinchas, the letter yud is smaller than the others, and why the vav in the word shalom (“peace”) is broken (Kiddushin 66b).

We shall attempt to explain all of the above as best we can, doing so by initially discussing the sin of the first man when he ate of the Tree of Knowledge.

When one performs a mitzvah, it must be done with complete devotion, entirely for the love of Heaven. One must also invest one’s 248 members and 365 tendons in humbling oneself completely and by putting all one’s being into a state of humility. This is why we are greatly surprised in examining the story of the first man who ate of the Tree of Knowledge. The Holy One, blessed be He, had told him, “Of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day of your eating of it, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Furthermore, this mitzvah is called an easy mitzvah (Shabbat 55a), at least with respect to the greatness of Adam. And yet Adam did not know how to hold himself back, finally eating of it. How could he, who had been fashioned by the hands of the Holy One, blessed be He (Kohelet Rabba 3:14), not manage to accomplish a mitzvah as simple as this? And even if it was difficult, he should have carried out G-d’s will and refrain from eating! Moreover, G-d had told him, “on the day of your eating of it, you shall surely die.” Why then, instead of making him die immediately, was G-d content by cursing him in saying, “By the sweat of your brow will you eat bread,” death coming only afterwards?

When the man ate from the Tree of Knowledge, he was encouraged by his wife (Genesis 3:6). Now the Sages have taught us that women are more intelligent than men (Bereshith Rabba 18:1), therefore it seemed evident to him that her wisdom was encouraging him to undertake this action in order to better serve G-d. It was with this goal in mind – to better serve G-d – that he assumed that he should act with complete devotion, namely with all his 248 members and 365 tendons. Yet to him, this could only have been possible if he ate of the Tree of Knowledge. Certainly he knew that he thereby put himself in mortal danger, yet nevertheless he was ready to render his life unto G-d in order to serve Him in the highest way possible, in the spirit of what Sages spoke of: “One hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than all the life of the World to Come” (Perkei Avoth 4:17).

However, beginning from the moment that he ate from the Tree of Knowledge and his understanding was increased, he very well understood and felt the insignificance of his state, as it is written, “And they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). On this, the Midrash explains as follows: “They had a single mitzvah and they had been stripped of it” (Bereshith Rabba 19:6), meaning that he understood that from that moment on, he was truly stripped of mitzvot. Despite this feeling, far from reversing, he thought that since he had fallen and was no longer elevating himself, he should from then on continue without stop to perform the will of the Creator, which is why he wanted to taste of the Tree of Life. Now such a gesture would have been very arrogant. Not content with having transgressed G-d’s commandment, he also didn’t want to be punished for it. This is why the Eternal chased him out of the Garden of Eden in saying, “And now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the Tree of Life …” (Genesis 3:22). Yet He did not immediately punish him with death, for Adam had acted with a positive goal in mind, in order to further elevate himself.

We see from this that if a man acts contrary to the will of G-d, even with all his heart, it is a mitzvah that is founded on a sin (Sukkah 30a). In addition, this sin engenders others (Perkei Avoth 4:2). At that moment, even if he wants to increase his fear of G-d, he will not be able to do so, and this will be counted unto him as a serious transgression.

Having said all this, let us at now explain what Pinchas the son of Elazar did. To answer our first question, Pinchas saw something being done, meaning the act of Adam who had wanted, by going against G-d’s will, to increase his fear of Heaven, something that he was not able to do. Pinchas recalled the Halachah according to which one must not go against G-d’s commandment, even when done with devotion to G-d, and that if one wants to absolutely prove one’s devotion, one must accompany it with total humility, without the slightest trace of arrogance or vanity. One’s devotion should be used solely to perform G-d’s will.

Having seen all this, Pinchas fervently prayed in order to prepare himself for the momentous act that he planned to undertake, for he needed much mercy from Heaven to obtain the miracle that they (Zimri and the Midianite woman) not die by his hand, since that would have rendered him impure because he was a priest. Then, he went to act with total devotion, with all this 248 members and 365 tendons, without the least bit of pride. This is the sense of the words, “He took a spear [(/9] in his hand”: He took with him his 248 members (the numerical value of (/9). And to answer our third question (that is, where were his 365 tendons?), we note that the text employs the word &$*" (“in his hand”). Now it is obvious that he took the spear in his hand and not in his mouth or in any other way. Yet the word &$*", in adding the values of its letters (22) to the word itself (1), has the same numerical value of the word &$*# (“his tendon”, whose value is 23). This indicates that he used all his 365 tendons equally, with all his heart. This is why the priests truly merited the shoulder from sacrificed animals, for it represents the arm of the animal (the extension of the hand), which symbolizes strength and devotion.

At that very moment, the Holy One, blessed be He – Who probes hearts and minds (Psalms 7:10) – acknowledged the excellence of Pinchas’ action. Having seen Moses and the Sages abstaining from all action, Pinchas decided to intervene, as the saying advises: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man” (Perkei Avoth 2:5). It is true that by this act Pinchas put himself in danger, for whoever instructs Halachah before his teacher, which is what Pinchas did before Moses, is liable to death (Berachot 31b). Yet despite everything, in view of the sin committed by Zimri, which put the all of the Children of Israel in danger, he decided that it was worth the risk of incurring death in order to save the people from destruction.

This was how Pinchas conducted himself, contrary to Adam who incited a curse and committed a serious transgression. Adam, moreover, hoped for a reward, whereas Pinchas acted solely for the love of Heaven, without awaiting any recompense and by fervently praying so as not to cause harm. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, truly rewarded him by adding the letter yud to his name, which evokes the Name Y-H, whose numerical value is 15, like the word ga’avah (“pride”). This signifies that G-d would protect him from that time on from pride, for all his actions demonstrated humility, love of Heaven, and the desire to increase G-d glory. This behavior is the mark of true devotion, and in fact G-d witnessed concerning him by stating: “He was jealous with My jealousy” (Numbers 25:11), meaning that all his actions were truly for G-d’s Honor.

In addition, Pinchas merited long life, and the Angel of Death never took hold of him (Zohar III:214a), for we know that Pinchas is Eliyahu (ibid., Perkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 47). This is opposed to Adam, whose days were shortened and who died, and concerning whom it is said, “And now, lest [05] he put forth his hand.” For Pinchas, his days were lengthened, and it is 1*5 of Pinchas (2(1*5) that repaired the 05 of Adam. Furthermore, 2( has the same numerical value as /**( (“life”), meaning that Pinchas had merited, through his own zealous act for the sake of Heaven, life for innumerable years.

If we are correct with regards to this, we will understand what the Tanna says when he states, “Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, to where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give an accounting” (Perkei Avoth 3:1). We understand that a man’s knowing where he is going (and before Whom he will be called to give an accounting) can prevent him from sinning, for otherwise he would incur punishment. But how can “from where you came” have the same effect? According to what we have said above, we understand perfectly well that the fear of punishment is not enough to avoid sin. One must also behave with complete humility (as Pinchas) and not with pride (as Adam). This attitude has an effect on the perfection of mitzvot performance, and consequently when a man considers that he originated from a putrid drop, he will inevitably humble himself and act in a spirit of humility and self-abasement solely in order to perform G-d’s will.

According to this, we also understand why the letter yud is written smaller than the rest of the letters in Pinchas’ name. It is because it alludes to the humility that is in him. And why is the letter vav in the word shalom broken? It is because of the greatness of Pinchas, for, as we know, a broken vav takes on the aspect of a yud, consequently it is considered as both a vav and a yud, which together have the numerical value of 16. This value is equal to the sum of the initials in the verse &1!8*& 3-" -*( (“He devoured wealth, but will disgorge it” – Job 20:15), and these initials form an acronym that is particularly tied to the reparation of sins dealing with the covenant of circumcision. Now we know that the essential thing concerning Adam’s sin (according to the Arizal) was that he didn’t wait until the evening of Shabbat to perform the mitzvah to “be fruitful and multiply,” without which a light would have surrounded him. He did it before Shabbat began, which gave the serpent the possibility of desiring Eve (Bereshith Rabba 18:6), and in this Adam violated that covenant, which is the foundation of, and comprises the 613 mitzvot. Instead of arriving at sheleimut (“perfection”), which is similar to shalom (“peace”) – as it is written, “He makes peace in His heights” (Job 25:2) – he arrived at calamity and death. This is why Pinchas did not violate the covenant of circumcision (Zohar III:220a), why he showed himself to be jealous for G-d’s cause with humility, and why he received G-d’s “covenant of peace” (Numbers 25:12). The Hebrew word brit (“covenant”) has the numerical value of 613 (including the word itself in the count), and so Pinchas received peace (shalom) and perfection (sheleimut) as well as &-"-( (by the broken vav). He thereby merited repairing that which Adam had ruined.

Yet the Children of Israel, drawn by deception and deceit, gathered together around Zimri, who had asked Moses, “Who allowed you the daughter of Jethro?” (Sanhedrin 82a). Because the Children of Israel were arrogant, they did not view the action of Pinchas in a positive light, nor did they tell Zimri that Moses had married before the giving of the Torah, and that moreover he had done so in holiness. They preferred to scorn Pinchas by recalling the other side of his ancestry, for they wanted to remind him “where he came from.” They wanted to remind him that he came from a totally different side, not from Elazar and Aaron, but from the side of Jethro, who was the priest of an idolatrous cult. On his part, Pinchas continued to act with humility, self-abasement, and total devotion. He thus demonstrated to all men the path to follow for all generations, namely to know when one must truly rise up, and when one should be on guard that this elevation not undermine holiness. He showed us how not to act like Adam, who harmed this holiness and made himself liable for death, but rather how to act as he (Pinchas) did, who demonstrated his jealousy for G-d and merited all the good reserved for the righteous.


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