We need to recapitulate. Recall last week the Jewish men became debaucherous with the promiscuous daughters of Moav and Midian and with the brazen public sexual act of Zimri (a prince from the tribe of Simeon) and a Midianite princess. Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson pierced the two of them to death with a spear, halting a plague from God that had killed thousands. I closed last week with the query: “Was Pinchas a hero or vigilante?”
The questions abound, and we can ponder these over Shabbat:
- Why does God praise Pinchas for killing two people spontaneously without a trial or even a warning?
- Why does God grant Pinchas peace and even offer him priesthood?
- Is zealotry and passion for God good when it leads to violence?
Within our time here the quickest answer is found in the first sentence of our parsha. “The Lord spoke to Moses saying.” Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, known as Or HaChaim (1696-1743) sets out a Torah maxim that “saying” or לאמר usually introduces a statement that is to be repeated to others and indicates that the Lord wanted the entire nation to know that Pinchas had saved them from a cataclysm and earned for himself the priesthood.
Every time I think of Pinchas being elevated to Kohen status, I cannot help but recall the timeworn story of the man who came to the rabbi offering a thousand dollars to make him a Kohen. The rabbi politely rejects him and the man responds with a five thousand dollar offer only to be rebuffed by the rabbi again. A few days later the man returns with a third grandiose offer and the rabbi begins to vacillate, and he asked: “Why do you want to be a Kohen so desperately?” The man responds, “My father was a Kohen and my grandfather was a Kohen and I want to be one too!”
We see there are two ways to become a Kohen, paternally and with this one exception from the Almighty. Now, if someone wants to build a gym, pool, and fitness center adjacent to our social hall so that he or she can become a Kohen, I will attempt to intervene as best I can (only after it is built). In the meantime, I hope you will join me tomorrow morning as we will discuss “Did Pinchas Really Do The Right Thing?”
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham