The Weekly Parsha: A New Dimension
by Rabbi Heshy Grossman

Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parshas Pinchus


"....and the people began to commit adultery with the daughters of Moav. And they called the people to sacrifice to their Gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their Gods. And Yisrael joined himself to Ba'al Pe'or, and the anger of Hashem was kindled against Israel. And Hashem said to Moshe, take all the chiefs of the people and hang them up before Hashem, against the sun. And Moshe said to the judges of Yisrael, kill every one of the men who have attached themselves to Ba'al Pe'or. And one man of the B'nai Yisrael came, and brought to his brothers a Midianite, in the sight of Moshe, and in the sight of all the congregation of B'nai Yisrael, and they were weeping at the door of the Ohel Mo'ed.

And Pinchas, ben Elazar, ben Aharon HaKohen saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a spear in his hand. And he went after the man of Yisrael into the tent, and stabbed both of them, the man of Yisrael, and the woman, through her belly. And the plague was stopped from the B'nai Yisrael. And those that died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.

And Hashem said to Moshe, saying. Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen has turned my anger away from the B'nai Yisrael, in that he was zealous for My sake among them, and I did not consume the B'nai Yisrael in My jealousy. Therefore, say, I am giving to him my covenant of peace. And it will be his, and to his children after him, a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he was zealous for his G-d, and atoned for the B'nai Yisrael." (Bamidbar 25, 1-13)

The deed of Pinchas was one of zealotry, there was no Halachic imperative to kill Zimri, the Nasi of Shevet Shimon. In fact, were Zimri to turn and defend himself by killing Pinchas, he would be acting completely within his rights.

The Biblical record of this incident leaves a number of unanswered questions. If it was necessary for Zimri to be struck down, why didn't Moshe or Aharon take the initiative to do so? Secondly, how does a violent act of zealotry bring about a covenant of eternal peace?

Even more importantly, how can one individual, not considered to be a leader of the nation, take it upon himself to perform an act of such consequence? Let us picture the scene. The Gedolei HaDor were present and chose not to act. Yet, Pinchas rises before them and takes the matter into his own hands. Is it not understandable that the tribe of Shimon wants to murder him on the spot? From where did Pinchas derive the courage for this individualistic display, risking his life in the process?


Let us begin our shiur by explaining why Moshe and Aharon did not kill Zimri themselves.

"And they [Moshe and Adas Yisrael] were weeping at the door of the Ohel Mo'ed" - "The Halacha was forgotten, they all broke down in tears..." (Rashi, Bamidbar 25,6)

It should be obvious that Moshe Rabbeinu doesn't forget anything. He hesitates for good reason. Although Hashem had commanded that the violators be killed, something occurs that makes punishment unworkable.

Let us look at the Ramban's description of the course of events.

Immediately following the kindling of G-d's anger, a plague began. Rather than the righteous being struck together with the wicked (as normally occurs at times of G-dly wrath), Hashem told Moshe to judge the sinners, and have them killed Al Pi Din. This was an act of Mishpat, Midas Hadin, but one of mercy, as well. It would prevent an even greater taking of life, the plague that would wipe out thousands more. Moshe commanded the judges to carry out the decree, and all of Israel gathered at the Ohel Mo'ed. It was after the plague had already begun that Zimri brazenly brought Kozbi bas Tzur before Moshe in an act of open rebellion. The zealotry of Pinchas assuaged G-d's wrath. His act took the place of Din, henceforth, there was no longer any need for the Mishpat of the Judges.

We can now understand why Moshe Rabbeinu did not kill Zimri. This was not the time for Din.

The Din of Hashem is not meant as retribution. G-d has no need to take revenge from those who violate His word. Punishment is designed to rectify wrongdoing, putting evil in its proper place. The sinner who is punished by Hashem should take the lesson to heart, examine his deeds, and correct what needs repair.

Yet, there are those who ignore the threat of punishment. They pay no heed to the chastisement of Hashem. They have become so set in their ways, and so stubborn in their approach, even open reproof would not impact upon their lives. In such cases, there is no purpose to punishment. Justice would not be achieved.

The tribe of Shimon approaches their leader Zimri AFTER the plague has already begun. "They are sentencing us to death and you are sitting silently!" (Sanhedrin 82a). Though witness to the wrath of Hashem, they cling obstinately to their sin. It is for this reason that Moshe cries at the door of the Mishkan. He realizes that there no longer is any basis for carrying out the Din. It wouldn't help. He cries for the Divine Name that lies in disrepair.


Hashem directs the world in two different ways.

The superficial analysis reveals a pattern of Mishpat. In a world of good and evil, Heavenly justice ultimately prevails. The evil empires have faded to the dustbins of history. The idol worshippers of old have found the same fate as their empty gods. It is the only the integrity of the righteous that has lasting value. To the thinking person, a life of evil is simply not worth it. Goodness is its own reward.

But there is a deeper pattern to G-d's direction of the world, what the Ramchal refers to as 'Hanhagas HaYichud'.

So long as evil exists as an alternative, the unity of G-d remains hidden.The purpose of life cannot be achieved by punishing evil, but only by wiping it out entirely. Mishpat then, is a prepatory stage, leading the world to a more profound understanding of life.

Olam HaZeh was created for the benefit of man. It is here that he can accomplish and achieve. Good and evil are tools that enable man to toil, and hence, merit reward. Hashem has hidden Himself, allowing for the possibility of the evil that conceals His face even further. Without this cover, man would be blinded by the force of good, losing the freedom of choice by which he earns his reward.

Evil, then, and the Mishpat that keeps it in check, are functions of our temporal world. They allow a place for mortal man amidst the totality of G-d's existence. This is in contrast to the world-to-come, where G-d's unity is revealed, dominating all of reality. There, in the world of reward, man will bask in a unified peace. He will free himself from the evil that brings so much suffering, and ultimately, justice, to a struggling world.

In every court of judgment, Mishpat has two sides. In the world-to-come there can be no Mishpat, for there will be no evil, only the one Truth of the One G-d.


The world of today is devoid of Mishpat. Evil flourishes unchecked, while the faith of the righteous remains unrewarded. Where is the world headed? What does G-d want?

In the absence of Mishpat, it is G-d Himself who manages the continuation of existence. The world is certainly not being maintained on its own merit. Yet, unlike the Tohu VaVohu of creation, the world is not utter chaos. The Torah has been given and the Mitzvos of the Jewish People actualize G-d's will in the physical world. Though to the world at large the truth remains a mystery, it is the individual Tzaddik who becomes the expression of G-dly Unity.

The Chiddushei Torah of the Tzaddik enables him to become a partner with G-d in the creation of a new order.

"....Therefore, our Sages said, all who involve themselves in Torah for its own sake are called 'Rei'a' - 'friend', it is as if he becomes a partner with the Creator, since it is he who is now maintaining the worlds with his Torah study, without which the world would revert to Tohu VaVohu......and certainly, true Chiddushei Torah that are innovated by man, there is no measure to their wonders, and their effect in the heavens. Each and every word innovated by man is kissed and crowned by Hashem, created from it is a completely new and independent world... (Nefesh HaChaim 4,11-12)

In a world where truth and justice have vanished, it is the toil of individuals, not the multitudes, that rebuilds the Malchus Shamayim. As the last of the prophets foretold, regarding the period before redemption, "Then will speak those who fear G-d, one man to his friend, and G-d will listen and hear, and a Sefer Zikaron will be written before Him, to those who fear G-d, and consider His name". (Malachi 3,16)

True, the Torah scholar lives in his own world. But the depths of his soul touches eternity. His is a self-contained environment where nothing is lacking. Where truth reigns and evil is exposed as fantasy. There is no need for Mishpat once the Unity of G-d has been revealed.

Ironically, then, we are closer to redemption than ever before. The disappearance of justice insures that it is a deeper Hand directing the world to its destiny. In the absence of Mishpat, the concealed unity of G-d peeks out, just beneath the surface, waiting to be unmasked.

The world of Torah is a universe of its own. Far from the public eye, it is the private Torah of the individual Jew, 'one man to his friend', that marks the onset of Geulah. To him, Mishpat is superfluous, for in his world, the Malchus Shamayim is evident and clear. The public may be oblivious to the truth, but the goal of Creation can be e realized by revelation granted to a limited few. It is around these 'chosen people' that our world revolves.


Let us now return to our subject.

PInchas is a zealot. He kills Zimri without a trial. Without Mishpat. He sacrifices himself for the desecrated Name of G-d, merging his personal self in unified harmony with the Divine Will. It is precisely this act that renders moot the need for justice. "He was zealous for My sake....Therefore I did not consume the B'nai Yisrael in My jealousy."

>From where does he draw the courage to endanger his life? How can he shoulder the responsibility for an act of such consequence?

He lives in the world of Unity. His world is pure and self-contained. Evil cannot exist in a universe that lies beyond the law. "I am giving to him My covenant of peace." In the world of Pinchas there are no conflicts.

We live in an age of unparalleled human suffering. More people have been killled at the hand of others during this century than the previous thousand years combined.

Yet, thousands of people can lie complacently at the beach under threat of nuclear extinction. Others remain glued to their television sets while their neighbor is buried, felled by an indiscriminate disease that could easily hit home. It's not that they have become inured to suffering. It's that they just don't care. They just would rather have a good hamburger. (It's a fact that most condemned prisoners choose a good meal as their last request) "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (Isaiah 22,13)

How can Divine Justice possibly rectify this situation? If man has become so obstinate in his ways that he is blind to his own demise, what benefit is there to Mishpat? And, if Mishpat is not forthcoming, how is redemption to arrive?

It is the zealotry of Pinchas that is destined to herald the oncoming Geulah. As our sages have taught, Pinchas and Eliyahu HaNavi are one. The same Eliyahu that announces the Messiah's arrival. He waits for individuals such as Pinchas, who will bring atonement to all mankind. Much as Klal Yisrael waited for the Kohen Gadol to emerge from the Holy of Holies, where G-d is revealed and no man can enter.

Pinchas is that Kohen, destined to come forth from his world of solitude and reveal the "Bris Kehunas Olam...a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he was zealous for his G-d, and atoned for the B'nai Yisrael."

The modern-day Pinchas is likewise ready to sacrifice himself at the gateway to the Kodesh HaKodashim. He gives up family, friends, and livelihood. Not because he's commanded to, or because it's just, but because in the world of Torah nothing exists but the will of Hashem.

The fate of the world rests in our hands.

Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel