The Zealousness of Pinchas

“Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in My vengeance”

(Bamidbar 25:11)

Hashem richly rewarded Pinchas for his zealousness for Hashem’s honor. The pasuk (Bamidbar 25:12) states, “Behold! I give him My covenant of peace. And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his G-d, and he atoned for the Children of Israel.”

Pinchas’ trait of zealousness drove him to act as he did, in spite of the risk to his life. His sole motivation was to avenge Hashem’s Name, removing disgrace from Bnei Yisrael. His zealousness was in place, proven by the fact that as soon as he eliminated Zimri and Kuzbi, the plague ceased. Hashem blessed him with peace and priesthood, for himself and his children forever.

The Midrash (Tanchuma, Bechukotai 5) relates a puzzling incident regarding Pinchas. The Judge, Yiftach, came back from battle victorious. He vowed to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house. In gratitude to Hashem, he believed it would be a kosher animal, worthy of offering on the altar. Instead, it was his daughter, come to greet her triumphant father. Yiftach felt he had no recourse but to put her in solitary confinement for the rest of her life.

Pinchas, the Kohen Gadol, felt it was beneath his dignity to go to Yiftach in order to nullify his promise. He claimed that if Yiftach wished to release his daughter from her captivity, it behooved Yiftach to come to him, the High Priest, and not the other way around. Due to his arrogant attitude, the Divine spirit left Pinchas. This is most intriguing. Pinchas was the great zealot of Hashem, as depicted in this parashah. He saved our nation from destruction through his self-sacrifice. How could he not take pity upon Yiftach’s daughter, left in isolation for the rest of her life, simply because her father objected to coming to him to nullify his promise?

Yiftach was punished for his refusal to come before the Kohen Gadol, but Pinchas was punished, as well. He should have gone to Yiftach as an act of compassion for the girl, whose life was ruined on account of her father’s vow and his undue pride.

Pinchas was consistent in his zealousness throughout his long career. When he heard of Yiftach’s vow, he considered it an act of humiliation to Hashem and a disgrace of the Torah. What would Yiftach have done had a donkey emerged? Throughout his life, Pinchas avenged Hashem’s honor. He wanted to demonstrate that Yiftach’s vow was a dishonor to Hashem.

Pinchas anticipated Yiftach’s arrival. Yiftach would remove the cloak of conceit and seek ways of nullifying his vow, thereby rectifying the desecration to Hashem’s Name. When he saw that Yiftach was not forthcoming, Pinchas acted stringently with him and refused to come to him. Pinchas was motivated by the wish to uphold the honor of Hashem’s Name. He wanted others to see and learn, so that they should not repeat Yiftach’s fatal mistake, and the chillul Hashem that resulted.

Pinchas was, once again, stimulated by genuine motives. Therefore, the Shechinah left him only temporarily. It returned later on, when he returned to this world as Eliyahu Hanavi. We find that Eliyahu Hanavi lowered his dignity before Achav after he had killed the prophets of Ba’al (Melachim I, 18:46). Eliyahu subjected himself to the king, in spite of his greatness. This is evidence that Pinchas/Eliyahu’s refusal to approach Yiftach did not stem from arrogance. He was driven only by Hashem’s honor. He wanted to teach the lesson that this type of vow is a sin which warrants repentance. Nevertheless, Pinchas was punished by the Divine spirit leaving him, for he should have displayed more compassion toward Yiftach’s daughter.

In Summary

Pinchas took up for Hashem’s honor by killing the Nasi of Shevet Shimon together with the Midianite woman, thereby halting the epidemic. He received tremendous reward for this act.

Why did Pinchas adamantly refuse to come toward Yiftach and nullify his vow, instead, demanding that Yiftach come to him?

Pinchas did not act out of arrogance, chas v’shalom. Pinchas returned as Eliyahu Hanavi. Eliyahu showed honor to King Achav, proving that he never acted out of personal honor or arrogance.

Pinchas refused to come to Yiftach in order to teach that one should never make such a vow.


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