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Earning the Crown

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Earning the Crown

Summarized by Ari Mermelstein

This week's parasha opens with God's reaction to Pinchas' zealotry in the end of last week's reading. In this response, God refers to Pinchas as "Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the kohen." Why was it necessary to trace Pinchas' genealogy back to his grandfather? In tackling this question, Rashi (Bemidbar 25:11) quotes a gemara (Sanhedrin 82b) which explains that the tribes derided Pinchas by referring to the fact that his mother's father, Yitro, had fattened calves for idol worship. Therefore, the Torah included Aharon in the verse to remind the people that Pinchas was a descendant of the High Priest.

We can suggest an alternate explanation for why the Torah provided us with Pinchas' family tree, but in order to do this, we must first relate to the unique nature of Pinchas' priesthood. The Torah (Bemidbar 25:14) describes God's covenant with Pinchas as "an everlasting covenant of priesthood;" however, the nature of this unique covenant is unclear. The Sifri on (Bemidbar 25:13) explains that God guaranteed Pinchas that many of his descendants would be high priests. Alternatively, Rashi explains that the covenant of priesthood was necessary to give Pinchas the status as a priest. According to Rashi, this covenant was necessary because, unlike other priests, who would receive their status as an inheritance, Pinchas did not. Only those priests born after the anointing of Aharon and his sons could receive this inheritance; however, Pinchas, as someone born before his father, uncles and grandfather were anointed, fell between the cracks.

The background to this explanation by Rashi is found in the gemara (Zevachim 101b) which explains that Pinchas had to take initiative in order to merit his inclusion in the priesthood. Although the gemara cites two conflicting views concerning what exactly Pinchas did to become a priest, it is clear that for both, Pinchas EARNED his status.

In light of this anomalous way in which Pinchas became a priest, we might have thought that the parameters of his service were also exceptional. If the process through which he merited priesthood was extraordinary, perhaps the definition of his role was similarly unique. In response to this suggestion, the Torah juxtaposes Pinchas to his predecessors, Elazar and Aharon. While the circumstances surrounding Pinchas' priesthood were unique, his duties were identical to those of Elazar and Aharon. The phrase "Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the kohen" intends to inform us that Pinchas the kohen parallels Aharon the kohen; though God granted Pinchas priesthood through exceptional circumstances, Pinchas' job description mirrored that of Aharon.

The Rambam (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 3:1) speaks of the three crowns which were given to Israel: the crown of kingship, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of Torah. Regarding the crown of Torah, the Rambam writes that it "is set aside, waiting and ready for each Jew ... whoever desires may come and take it." Like the priesthood of Pinchas, it is not passed on through inheritance, but must be earned. Although every Jew has the potential to acquire the Torah, there is a danger inherent in the pursuit. A person might think (as we might have thought about Pinchas) that if he possesses the ability to attain the crown of Torah, he likewise possesses the ability to dictate the content of his personal crown.

Innovation and "chiddush" in Torah learning are important, even desired. The springs of Torah are not meant to be stagnant, but rather flowing and vibrant. Although the question of how central a role chiddush should occupy in Torah learning is the subject of an ongoing debate, everyone agrees that it plays some role. Nonetheless, our learning has to be characterized by a desire to cling to the Mesora and not deviate from the tradition that originated with Moshe.

(Originally delivered at Seuda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Pinchas 5757.)


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