SALT - Thursday, 17 Tammuz 5780 - July 9, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The opening verses of Parashat Pinchas tell of the reward which God told Moshe he would grant to Pinchas, whose act of zealotry ended the plague which would have otherwise annihilated Benei Yisrael.  God first informed Moshe that Pinchas’ act effectively saved the nation from eradication, and then commanded, “Therefore, say that I am hereby granting him [Pinchas] My covenant of peace” (25:12).
            The Ramban noted that God did not instruct Moshe to tell Pinchas that He is granting Him this reward, but rather to simply “say” that He would be rewarding Pinchas.  Apparently, the Ramban writes, the command was for Moshe to make this announcement to the people, and not to Pinchas.  They were to be told that God was rewarding Pinchas.  The Ramban explains that since Pinchas was rewarded with “berit kehunat olam” – the status of kohen which he would bequeath to his descendants for eternity, this information needed to be conveyed to the entire nation.  God commanded Moshe to notify Benei Yisrael that Pinchas and his descendants have now been elevated to the status of kohanim.
            Additionally, however, this command might be understood in light of the Midrash’s famous remark, cited by Rashi (25:11), that the people fiercely condemned Pinchas for his act.  Pinchas made the controversial decision to kill a prominent leader of the nation while he was committing a public sinful act with a Midyanite woman, and the people sharply criticized him.  They questioned his piety, arguing that he was not so righteous himself that he could assume the right to protest sinful conduct.  As the people scorned and mocked Pinchas, God turned to Moshe and commanded him to announce to the nation that God approved of Pinchas’ reaction, and would be rewarding him.
            This approach is taken by Rav Yaakov Mecklenberg, in his Ha-ketav Ve-ha-kabbala, where he adds a novel reading of this verse.  God commanded Moshe, “…emor” – which is commonly understood as, “say,” or “declare.”  Rav Mecklenberg, however, notes that the root a.m.r. can mean not only “say,” but also “extol.”  In Sefer Devarim (26:17), Moshe tells Benei Yisrael, “Et Hashem he’emarta hayom,” which Rav Mecklenberg explains to mean, “You have extolled the Lord this day.”  And in the next verse, Moshe says, “V-Hashem he’emirekha hayom” – “And the Lord has extolled you this day.”  Rav Mecklenberg also cites the verse in Tehillim (66:3), “Imru l-Eilokim ma nora ma’asekha,” which is commonly translated as, “Say to God: How awesome are Your works!”  However, based on the context, Rav Mecklenberg contends that this verse urges us not simply to “say” or “pronounce” that God’s works are magnificent, but rather to give praise to the Almighty through this pronouncement.
            By the same token, Rav Mecklenberg boldly suggests interpreting the word “emor” here in Parashat Pinchas as referring to praise.  In response to the disdain which the people expressed towards Pinchas, God commanded Moshe to counter their condemnations with words of praise to extol and celebrate Pinchas’ act, which had the effect of saving the nation from annihilation.