From the teachings of Maran Rabbenu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l
[Why Did Pinechas Receive Such a Unique Reward?]
The [end of last week’s and the beginning of this week’s] Parshiyot state: “Israel was staying in Shittim, when the people began to behave immorally with the Moabite girls. [The girls] invited the people to their religious sacrifices, and the people ate and worshipped the [Moabite] gods…Hashem displayed anger against Israel…[The judges] were still weeping [in indecision] at the entrance of the Ohel Moed, when an Israelite brought forth a Midianite woman to his brethren before Moshe’s eyes and the Israelite community. When Pinechas, a son of Elazar, a grandson of Aaron the priest, saw this, he rose up from among the congregation and took a spear in his hand. He followed the Israelite man into the tent’s inner chamber, and ran them through, [driving the spear] through the Israelite man and the woman’s groin...and the plague ceased from the Children of Israel “ (Bamidbar 25:1-6).
Following this it states, “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, Pinechas a son of Elazar, a grandson of Aaron the priest, was the one who zealously took up My cause among the Israelites and turned my anger away from them, so that I did not destroy them in My demand for exclusive worship. Therefore, tell him that I have given him My covenant of peace” (ibid 25:10-13).
Here Hashem commanded that Pinechas will also merit to the “Crown of Priesthood” forever. This was due to his unique act, that he revoked Hashem’s anger from the Jewish People and in his merit the plague ceased.
[Pinechas’s actions and reward may be understood with a series of parables – 3 in all.]
This may be explained by way of [the first] parable. A king was traveling, together with his highly regarded ministers. In those times, not everyone knew the king by face. On his way the king passed some children playing. When they saw the king, the eldest and strongest child in the group then jumped up, grabbed the king’s hat and announced frivolously, “Who wants to buy a hat? Any takers?”
The king was extremely angry and wanted to judge the child for disrespecting the monarchy and have him sentenced to death.
One of the ministers saw this, what did he do? He descended from the carriage, approached the child and slapped him hard on his face. He grabbed the hat from his hands and returned it to the king’s head. The anger of the king subsided. The king relaxed from his frustration. In transpired that the minister who slapped the child did him a great favour, for through this he saved him from [certain] death, enabling him to experience life.
Likewise with Pinechas. At that time there was great anger against the Jewish People, for Hashem despises immorality and the Jewish people stumbled in the severest of sins, Hashem had therefore already considered in his anger the destruction of the Jewish People. [But] along came Pinechas and smote Zimri and Kozbi, killing them both. And with this act did a great kindness to the whole of the Jewish People for through him Hashem’s anger subsided and the plague ceased. Therefore Hashem declared, “Behold I grant him My covenant of peace”.
Our Sages state in the Midrash, “Therefore, tell him that I have given him My covenant of peace” – by right, he should take his reward! This means that Pinechas is entitled to a unique reward for his honourable act.
However we must ask, what is so unique about Pinechas’s act? For Moshe Rabbenu did multiple acts of kindness for the Jewish People? [For example] after the sin of the Golden Calf, when Hashem wanted to destroy the Jewish People (chas veshalom) and Moshe Rabbenu became ill through praying for them - this happened many times - yet we do not find that Moshe was lauded in any unique way for these multiple acts, if so, in what way was Pinechas’s act different from those of Moshe?
The most straightforward understanding of this is as follows [with the second parable]. Take for example a shepherd that is responsible for many sheep and he accompanies them to the wilderness where they graze. One day a pack of wolves approached to rip apart the sheep. The shepherd stood his ground and took his life in his own hands when he began smiting the wolves. They howled summoning their fellow wolves but the shepherd was unperturbed and continued his defence of the sheep until the wolves retreated and he saved his sheep. When the shepherd returned to his city, no-one praised him for his exceptional acts of bravery because this is his job! He is responsible for protecting the sheep! The same may be said of Moshe Rabbenu who is coined [in the Zohar e.g. Bereishit page 106a and Midrash Rabbah e.g. Eicha Rabba Petichta 24 ] as the “Faithful Shepherd”, the trustworthy shepherd of the Jewish People, his purpose is to protect his sheep. Pinechas however, was from the rank and file, he had no [specific] responsibility for the Jewish People, yet nevertheless he enlisted himself, taking his life in his hands, he disguised himself as an old man whilst concealing the spear under his clothes and whilst leaning on his staff entered Zimri’s tent – who was the prince of one of the households of the tribe of Shimon – many thousands had surrounded his tent yet it was Pinechas who entered to kill him. This was not his role, he entered into it voluntarily, it is for this reason that he received a unique reward.
It is also possible to explain with the following [third] parable. An [Israeli] man had a local department store with a wide range of items for sale. He had a trusted manager who did everything the owner required.
Once Purim arrived and the owner said to his manager “It’s Purim today! Let’s close the shop at 3pm and we’ll sit down and enjoy the Purim seuda together.” They closed the shop and went to the owner’s home. The table was beautifully laid with many delicacies. They had just begun to eat when there was a knock on the door from someone from America. He asked him how he was and he responded, “I want you to open the shop for me because in two hours I need to be in the airport to fly back home and I need to buy some items from your shop”. The owner replied, “Look, today is Purim and we cannot avoid celebrating the seuda in order to open the shop for you”.
The reliable manager saw this and said to the owner, give me the key boss, I have already eaten a bit and it gives me joy to see you profit. So please let me open the shop for this gentleman because I can tell that he is a wealthy fellow who will purchase many items.” The manager went with the American and opened the shop for him. Indeed, the chap purchased items to the sum of $50,000.
When the manager returned to the owner, the sun had already set and Purim had ended. The owner said to the manager, “Until now you have served me faithfully and I provided for your every need including lodgings, food and drink, but now please tell me - because I want to pay you’re a decent wage, more than you would normally receive - what would you like?” The manager asked, “What is different about today than any other?” The owner responded, “Until know I have said [to myself] you work hard and are trustworthy in return for food, drink and lodgings, but now I have seen for myself that you are really dedicated to me, and so just like you want to benefit me to make handsome profits, so too I want you to profit to”.
Likewise with Pinechas. Pinechas sat and studied Torah, so Chazal explain “he rose up from among the congregation” he was teaching Torah and learning from Moshe Rabbenu and he enjoyed his learning greatly. He abruptly left it all in order to be zealous for Hashem, therefore, he is due a unique reward! And so it is appropriate and his right [entitlement as it were] that he should receive his [unique] reward!