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G-d said to Moses: 'Phineas… appeased My wrath against the Israelites when he executed My vengeance with zeal, so I did not consume the Israelites in My vengeance (25:10-11 - Parasha)
(G-d said to Elijah) 'Why are you here, Elijah?' Elijah replied: 'I have acted with zeal for the sake of G-d… for the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant… they have killed Your prophets with the sword… (King I 19:9-10 & 13-14 - Haftara)
Phineas and Elijah are both recorded as Kanaim - zealous. The Yalkut, at the beginning of Parashat Pinchas, records the tradition that Elijah is identified as Phineas. Hirsch explains this as meaning that the spirit of zeal of Phineas was carried on by the Prophet Elijah.
By acting on behalf of G-d in killing Zimri, Phineas publicly put an end to the idolatry and associated evils flowing from it.
By acting on behalf of G-d in killing the prophets of Baal, Elijah publicly struck a blow against the particularly virulent Baal culture imported and imposed on the Northern Kingdom of Israel by King Ahab's foreign wife, Jezebel.
G-d congratulated Phineas on killing Zimri - 'Behold I give him (Phineas) my covenant of peace'. But He seemed a little less enthusiastic about Elijah, who did the same thing on a much larger scale. After Elijah's action against the prophets of Baal, Jezebel let it be known that 'this time tomorrow' he would suffer the same fates as those dead prophets. Thus Elijah escaped out of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to Beersheba, and with Divine-provided sustenance, continued much further south to Mount Horeb (Sinai). As he took shelter in a cave on that mountain, 'the word of G-d came to him'. He did not shower with him with compliments, and an honorary and heredity membership of the Holy Priesthood. Instead - 'Why are you here, Elijah?' [And through the experience of the 'still small voice', G-d told him to change his methods to carry out His will. There was to be no more 'zeal' - bringing down the fire and massacring the priests of Baal. Instead, the way forward was to act quietly behind the scenes, with others, not as a one-man operation. He was to work towards enabling the counter-force of Jehu to overthrow the House of Omri, of which Ahab was the prominent member, and to enable his work to be continued by his future disciple, Elisha…]
Why, therefore, was Elijah's zeal seen less favorably than Phineas?
One suggestion is that, prophet as he was, he made a crucial error. That is in the direction of his flight. He did not cross the border into the Southern Kingdom and make his way to the Intense Presence on Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount) in Jerusalem, which at that time was under the G-d-fearing King Jehoshaphat. Instead he took a much longer passage to Mount Sinai… But he had come to the wrong place…
For the following reason. Mount Sinai - the 'Mountain of G-d - Horeb' (Ex. 3:1; Kings I 19:8) was the place of the Divine Revelation. But it was holy only for a short time - after the Revelation 'they may ascend the mountain after an extended blast of the Shofar' (Ex. 19:12). Later on, the Israelites left. Just left. Without even a good-bye. And that was it… Mount Sinai's intrinsic value as a resting place of G-d's Intense Presence did not survive…
By contrast, Mount Moriah's did. It was - and is - the place of the Original Blessing of Abraham's descendants - the Israelites very much included. [We do not have 'Original Sin': we have 'Original Blessing'.] After the Akeidah - the Binding of Isaac - Abraham made Mount Moriah holy for all time by calling it 'Hashem Yireh' - 'G-d Will See'. And the text adds 'as it is said this day, on the Mountain of G-d, He will be seen' (Gen. 22:14). Then the angel of G-d gave the Abraham and his descendants the Original Blessing for all time: 'I will bless you and make your children as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the sand of the sea shore. Your children shall inherit the gates of the enemy. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your children because you have listened to My voice' (Gen 22:17-18). That was the place that 'G-d would choose' (Deut. 12:5), and He had chosen (Kings I 8:16) to establish His Presence. And that was the place that Elijah should have chosen as well…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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