Parashat Pinhas

Zeal And Peace

How can we understand the relationship between Pinhas' act of zealous violence and the covenant of peace he receives as a result?

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The theme set by the Bavli, that there is a price to be paid for acts of zealousness and that Shalom is the higher goal, is reflected by medieval and modern sources. As the following texts indicate, inner harmony and communal peace are perceived as both the ultimate objective and the highest blessing:

Rabbinic Text 4: Commentary Of The Netziv (Naphtali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin)

"In reward for turning away the wrath of the Holy One Blessed Be He, God blessed Pinhas with the attribute of Shalom, that he should not be quick tempered or angry. Since, as it was only natural that such a deed as Pinhas should leave in his heart an intense emotional unrest afterward, the Divine blessing was designed to cope with this situation and promised inner peace and tranquility."

Observation On Text 4:

The Netziv focuses on the self-destructive nature of zealous violence. It as if the Netziv is warning that such acts can only lead one away from the path of Godliness, i.e. the path of Shalom. Perhaps informed by the Midrash Shemos Rabbah, the Netziv assumes that Pinhas may be justified only through an understanding that he acted to protect the Israelites (from God’s wrath). An act of zealous violence on behalf of God would not be justifiable.

Rabbinic Text 5: Rav By Nathan (as quoted in "Iturei Torah")

"After the great zealousness that he acted upon for God, God gives him as a gift the Covenant of Shalom. It is as if the Torah is hinting that the path of Shalom is always preferable to, and more successful than, the path of zealousness and war."

Observation On Text 5

Amen.

[Note: All of the texts referred to above are available in English translation and accessible to the casual student. Two compendiums which are especially helpful in finding primary sources for a Torah Study such as this are Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg and The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities by Yishai Chasidah.]

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Rabbi Howard Alpert is the Executive Director of the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia.