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"Behold I Give Him My Covenant of Peace"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



"Behold, I Give Him My Covenant of Peace"

"And God spoke to Moshe saying, Pinchas the son of Elazar, son of Aharon the Kohen, has turned My anger from Benei Yisrael because he was zealous for My sake... Therefore say, Behold, I give him My covenant of peace." (Bemidbar 25:10-12)

Upon reading these pesukim we are faced with the question of what possible connection there could be between the concept of peace and Pinchas's act of zealousness - an act which appears to stand in opposition to peace.

The commentaries, in dealing with this question, propose various explanations. The Ibn Ezra explains: "The reason [for the promise of the covenant of peace] was so that the brothers of Zimri would not come after him, for he was the prince of his tribe...." In other words, since Pinchas had assassinated an important personage - the prince of the tribe of Shimon - there was reason to expect that the latter's blood would be avenged, and therefore God promised him His covenant of peace in order to guard him.

Rashi proposes a different reason: "That he should have a covenant of peace, like someone who has special regard for a person who has done him a favor. In the same way, God rewards him here with peace." In other words, there really is no substantive connection between Pinchas's act and the covenant of peace; it is granted to him simply as a reward for his act of Kiddush Ha-Shem.

We may propose a third solution, which connects both of the above explanations both from the point of view of Pinchas's character and from the point of view of the event itself.

Let us return to the end of the previous parasha, where Pinchas's deed is recorded, and let us review the event:

"And behold, a man from amongst Benei Yisrael got up and brought to his brethren a Midianite woman, before Moshe and before all of the nation of Israel, and these were crying at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. And Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, saw and rose up from amongst the congregation and took a spear in his hand. And he came after the man of Israel into the chamber, and stabbed both of them through..." (ibid. 25:6-8)

A chilling scene is depicted here: a violent character appears, spear in hand, and kills a man in cold blood, without any hesitation and with no thought of a trial. Our confusion increases with the knowledge that the character involved is none other than Pinchas Ha-Kohen. Pinchas, descendant of the family of Kohanim about whom the prophet Malakhi said, "And you shall know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant should be with Levi... My covenant was with him for life and for peace... The Torah of truth was in his mouth... He walked with Me in peace and uprightness... for the Kohen's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek Torah at his mouth." (2:4-7)

The image of the Kohen is that of a man of peace and truth, who is favored by his fellows and is easy-going with them. As the Rambam explains, "Why did the tribe of Levi not merit to receive an inheritance in Eretz Yisrael and in the spoil of the land, like their brethren? Because they were separated for Divine service, to serve Him and to teach His ways of uprightness and His righteous laws to the masses." (Hilkhot Shemitta ve-Yovel 13:12).

And to top it all, Pinchas is the grandson of Aharon - the same Aharon who was known to "love peace and pursue peace," who "loved his fellow-men and brought them close to Torah." Hence we would expect that his grandson, too, would have been educated in the same spirit of peace and kind outreach, not towards acts of murder, rejection and revenge.

The gemara in massekhet Sanhedrin learns from the verse, "And he GOT UP from amongst the congregation and he took a spear in his hand..." that it is forbidden to enter the Beit Midrash (study hall) carrying a weapon. In other words, Pinchas did not habitually carry a weapon; he generally spent his time in the Beit Midrash. In rising he was indeed departing from his usual manner and from the spirit in which he had been educated - the spirit of peace and truth. On the other hand, this rising also contains an element of elevation. For not everyone is capable of standing up and doing what is required when the nation is in a situation of crisis. And a close examination of the verse reveals that this was indeed the case at the time: a plague was raging amongst the nation, and the leaders were crying at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The scene is one of breakdown among the leadership and general despair. At such a difficult hour, only someone as great as Pinchas was able to take control of the situation. He knew that the situation required him to temporarily depart from his usual peaceful manner and to rise up to perform a radical act, which would eventually lead to calm.

The granting of peace to Pinchas can now be explained in a new light. Even a person who throughout his life follows the path of peace and truth, if he should take up a spear - even for just one moment - and kill someone, then there is a danger that something within him has changed; that something of his sensitivity has been impaired. Therefore there is a need for the covenant of peace - an assurance that he will return to the natural and desired path, where he belongs.

"Pinchas the son of Elazar - God said: It is just and fair that he should receive a reward, 'Therefore say, behold - I give him My covenant of peace.' Great is the peace that was granted to Pinchas, for the world operates only because of peace, and the entire Torah is peace, as it is written: 'Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.' And if a person arrives after a journey, we ask after his peace... We conclude the Shema with '...Who spreads his tabernacle of peace...' and the Amida, too, closes with the blessing of peace... The Birkat Kohanim (priestly blessing) also concludes with peace. Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta said, 'There is no vessel that can contain blessing other than peace, as it is written: God will give strength to His nation; God will bless His nation with peace.'" (Bemidbar Rabba, 21:1)

(Originally delivered on Shabbat Parashat Pinchas 5752.

Translated by Kaeren Fish.)