Thought of the Week: Pinchas - 5772


    The simple reading of this week’s Paresha indicates that Pinchas was chosen as a Kohen after killing Zimri. However the Talmud in Zevachim shares the opinion of Rav Ashi that Pinchas did not become a Kohen until he made peace among the tribes several years later.

    After the tribes of Reuven, Gad and Menashe fulfilled their promise to assist in the conquest of Israel proper, Yehoshua told them to “return to your homes in the land that Moshe the servant of the Hashem gave you on the other side of the Jordan.”

    The text notes that “When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reuvenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Menashe built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.”

    The tribes on the western side of the Jordan assumed that the altar was for idolatry and thus prepared for battle. However the Israelites sent Pinchas to address the tribes of Reuven, Gad and Menashe and asked “How could you break faith with the G-d of Israel like this? How could you turn away from Hashem and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now?” He continued “Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin.”

    The tribes of Reuven, Gad and Menashe replied that the alter was not for pagan worship but rather; “We did it for fear that someday your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with Hashem, the G-d of Israel?  Hashem has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reuven, Gad and Menashe have no share in Hashem.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing Hashem. That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship Hashem at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in Hashem.’

    When Pinchas heard what the three tribes had to say, he was pleased. Pinchas replied “Today we know that Hashem is with us, because you have not acted unfaithfully toward Hashem in this matter.”

    As a result of the approval of Pinchas, war was avoided. According to Rav Ashi it was this act that merited Pinchas to become a bona fide Kohen. It was not Pinchas the zealot that was chosen but rather Pinchas the peace maker!

                Shabbat Shalom