Pride is the Source of All Sin

It is written, “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and tell them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself for a person [nefesh] among his people” (Vayikra 21:1). What does nefesh mean? We may say that it designates a person’s body, his 248 limbs and 365 sinews, for they constitute the “people” of the body (cf. Nedarim 32b on the expression ve’anashim bah me’at [Kohelet 9:14]). This means that a person must not make himself impure through pride, for in that case his body and all its parts will also become impure.

Regarding the juxtaposition of Parsha Kedoshim with Parsha Emor, the Zohar states that at the beginning of the former (Vayikra 19:2), Scripture warns the entire community of Israel to sanctify itself, and then in Parsha Emor it warns the priests to be holy. Scripture also gives a warning to the Levites, as it is written: “To the Levites shall you speak and you shall say to them” (Bamidbar 18:26). All this was in order for everyone (including the great among the people) to be holy and pure. They were also to be vigilant regarding the 248 members that correspond to the positive mitzvot (Makkot 23b; Tanchuma, Teitzei 2), and to sanctify themselves as much as possible.

However this still needs to be clarified. In Parsha Kedoshim the Torah warns the entire community of Israel (which includes the priests and Levites) to sanctify itself. Therefore why were the priests and Levites given a special warning?

The answer is that without this additional warning to the priests (in Parsha Emor), as well as to the Levites, people could have mistakenly believed that since they were holier than the rest of the Jewish people, they could therefore trust in their holiness, without the need for them to implement extra spiritual fences for themselves. This is why they were given a special warning, for it is precisely because they were holier that they had to sanctify themselves with even greater intensity, lest they fall into pride, which resembles sexual immorality (see below). They required an extra degree of sanctity because they worked in the Tent of Meeting, and as the Sages have said: “The greater the man, the greater his evil inclination” (Sukkah 52a). The Sages explain that the repetition, “Say to the priests…and tell them” (Vayikra 21:1) conveys a warning to the great regarding the small (Yebamot 114a). In other words, after having warned the latter about holiness when addressing the entire community of Israel (in Parsha Kedoshim), the Torah again warns the great, the priests and Levites, that they must also distance themselves from sin and pride.

In Parsha Pinchas it is written, “Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the priest” (Bamidbar 25:11). The Sages have explained that the tribes were scorning him by saying, “Look at this 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” (Sotah 43a). On this Rashi says, “Scripture therefore traces his lineage to Aaron” (Rashi on Bamidbar 25:11).

The following questions need to be addressed:

1. Why did the tribes scorn Pinchas for having killed Zimri the son of Salu, the tribal leader of Shimon (Bamidbar 25:14), since Zimri was liable to death and Moshe had given Pinchas permission to act? Was there any reason for Pinchas to be scorned?

2. Why did they remind Pinchas of the sins of his grandfather Jethro, since Jethro repented, converted to Judaism, and became a tzaddik (Mechilta, Yitro)? In fact Jethro became such a tzaddik that he merited having a parsha added to the Torah, a parsha that bears his name (Shemot Rabba 27:8; Sifri Beha’alotcha 10:29). Why, therefore, did they remind Pinchas of his grandfather’s past sins?

3. If Pinchas was to be reminded of his grandfather’s sins, why was it done precisely during the incident involving Zimri? Why not on another occasion?

The explanation is the following: What incited the anger of the tribes against Pinchas was the fact that he was a priest, and therefore he endangered his people by killing Zimri. In fact if the guilty parties had died by his hand there and then, Pinchas would have been in danger of becoming impure, and furthermore he could have died in the fight itself. This is why he was imputed with sin, on the assumption that his zealous action had not been motivated by a love of Heaven. Otherwise, why did he act before those who were older and better than him in exercising G-d’s vengeance? Even if he had acted in accordance with the law, as the Sages have said (Sanhedrin 82a), the tribes still believed that his killing of a Jewish leader stemmed from pride. The very fact that Pinchas entered the tent and saw such a lewd act proved (according to his detractors) that pride had warped his judgment. Now pride is in the same category as idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder. Pinchas therefore put himself in danger of idolatry, and he committed a sin by the lewd spectacle that he saw, a kind of sexual immorality. Why did he do these things by entering the tent?

Thus the tribes tried to understand from where this pride originated, and they ascribed it to his ancestry, meaning to his grandfather Jethro, who had been an idolater before repenting (Shemot Rabba 1:32). Jethro transmitted this idolatrous trait to his descendants, and although he later became a tzaddik, this ancestral source was still doing damage. This is why the tribes believed that Pinchas had transgressed the warning given by the Torah to the priests to guard themselves from pride, as we have said concerning the verse: “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and tell them: Each of you shall not contaminate himself for a person” (Vayikra 21:1).

To counter the erroneous view of the tribes, Scripture therefore linked Pinchas to Aaron the priest. This meant that although Pinchas was a descendant of Jethro, he drew his actions from Aaron the priest, who was completely humble and said of himself and Moshe, “What are we?” (Shemot 16:7). This is also why many miracles were performed for Pinchas when he killed Zimri (Sanhedrin 82b; Targum Yonatan, Bamidbar 25:8), and it is why Pinchas was protected from all harm – all due to the merit of Aaron the priest. As for someone who is filled with pride, it is certain that there is a defect in him regarding what he inherited from his ancestors. However since Pinchas descended from Aaron the priest – who was exceedingly humble and did everything for the love of Heaven – the influence of Jethro’s lineage was no longer perceptible in Pinchas, to the point that Scripture testifies, “He jealously avenged Me among them” (Bamidbar 25:11), without any personal interest, without pride, and solely for the love of Heaven.


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