At the end of last week’s Torah portion, the Torah recounts how Pinchas committed the ultimate act of zealotry: he killed a Jewish leader and the Midianite princess with whom he was consorting. The backdrop against which this event occurred was the unleashing of Moabites women to seduce the Jews into immoral acts and idolatry. As a consequence of this tragic degeneration of the Jewish community a terrible plague ensued, killing thousands of Jews. At that point, Pinchas the zealot took the initiative and slew the most visible perpetrators. Because he was zealous for G-d, he was rewarded by G-d that he and his children forever will be priests.
Commentators question the way the story of Pinchas has been divided into two separate sections. The actual story of Pinchas’ zealous act is recorded in last week’s portion entitled Balak. The reward G-d had promised him, however, is recorded in this week’s Torah portion entitled Pinchas. Why couldn’t the entire episode be stated in either the preceding portion or in this portion. There appears to be an attempt at discussing Pinchas in two different contexts.
To further buttress the case for the “two Pinchas” theory, we could cite the way Pinchas is mentioned here: “Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron the Priest.” Haven’t we already read in the preceding portion that Pinchas was the son of Elazar and the grandson of Aaron the Priest? Why is it necessary to repeat his genealogy? From this it can be inferred that the Pinchas discussed in this week’s portion is not the same spiritual Pinchas of last week’s portion. How can we explain the duality of Pinchas?
Pinchas, to be sure, was a zealot. Pinchas did, in fact, engage in a gruesome act of violence. Had the Torah thus concluded the preceding portion with Pinchas’ act and the reward he was given for it, we would have always remembered Pinchas for his zealotry, not for the peace and unity that he ultimately brought about.
Moreover, while zealousness can be a positive trait when it is performed in the interest of saving lives, it is not a trait that we want to perpetuate. We do not raise our children with the notion that they are to uproot and eradicate every trace of evil in the world. Fighting evil is a necessary measure to ensure the security and preservation of the good in our midst, but it has no intrinsic value. It is not a trait that we want to instill in our children.
Rather, what we seek to inculcate in our children and to perpetuate for posterity is the “covenant of peace.” The positive values of Judaism is what will eventually endure, while the fight against the negative will eventually cease with the advent of the Moshiach and the final redemption, at which time the “swords will be converted into plowshears.”
By dividing Pinchas into two, the Torah drives home a crucial message that notwithstanding the need for the zealous act of Pinchas, it was not this act that characterizes him and the Torah portion named after him, but his connection to Aaron the lover of peace. Pinchas, this week’s Torah portion declares is to be remembered as the continuation of Elazar and Aaron, the lover of peace. His killing of Zimri and Cozbi was motivated not by hatred or by a latent violent disposition. His violence, rather, was the outgrowth of his passionate love for the welfare of the Jewish people. And it is this passion that lasts forever.
The lesson for our times is obvious. We are living on the threshold of the Messianic Age when there will be no more evil to destroy. Even in the days of Pinchas, thousands of years before evil would be totally vanquished, the Torah wishes to separate Pinchas from his violent act so as to impress upon us the need to minimize the role of violence even in the fight against evil and to promote the preeminent role of goodness and peace. , How much more so, in our day and age, as we stand so close to the ultimate era of total peace and goodness, that we must accentuate the need to promote love and unity, and minimize the emphasis on fighting the last vestiges of evil in our society