From the teachings of Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztzvk”l
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
After the Bnei Yisrael sinned and they took women from the daughters of Moav, it states in the Parasha “…when an Israelite brought forth a Midyanite woman to his brethren before the eyes of Moshe and the Bnei Yisrael (this is Zimri ben Salu who came to sin with Kozbi bat Tzur the daughter of the King of Moav). When Pinchas saw this…he ran them through [driving the spear] through the Israelite man and the woman…Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aron the Cohen was the one who zealously took up My cause amongst the Bnei Yisrael 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 shalom.’” (Bamidbar 25:6-12), (that he merited the priesthood forever). It is explained that since Pinchas was zealous for Hashem’s Honour, risking his life to go and kill Zimri - and that with the strength of this act Hashem changed His mind regarding the retribution that he would exact against His people to destroy them - that Hashem merited him with this great gift that he and his offspring would become Cohanim just like the rest of Aron’s sons.
It is further explained in the passuk that the gift that Hashem gave Pinchas was for eternal priesthood, and regarding this Hashem said, “I have given him My covenant of shalom” because shalom is the symbol for the Cohanim’s actions.
Our chachamim taught us that all the rewards that Hashem gives a person come measure for a measure corresponding to the person’s deeds [see for example Shabbat 105b, Nedarim 32a and Sanhedrin 90a]. So if a person behaves from a perspective of strength [perhaps the intention here is implying “strict” conduct/behaviour], then it is appropriate that Hashem corresponds with a gift that symbolises strength. If so, it is difficult to understand what is going on here, because Pinchas’s action was not one of shalom, on the contrary, his action was of a combative nature, namely, to get up and kill a prince of one of Yisrael’s tribes and also kill Kozbi bat Tzur. If so, why did Hashem give him a reward that symbolises shalom?
However, when we examine the pessukim we see that Pinchas killed Zimri from a perspective of pure intent for Hashem’s sake [in Hebrew “l’shem shamayim”], with no ulterior motives. So not for vengeance against a person who had done something against Pinchas’s personal perspective, but only because that deed was against Hashem’s Will and it contained in it a chillul Hashem beyond all comprehension, causing others to sin too. Therefore he girded himself with sheer determination, he arose from a perspective of pure zealousness that engulfed him and he killed Zimri and Kozbi. And about this Hashem testified Himself, when He said, “who zealously took up My cause”, because it was purely zealousness for Hashem’s honour that motivated Pinchas to do what he did. Therefore his actions were especially pleasing before Hashem.
The outcome of this was that through Pinchas’s deed, Hashem’s anger was removed from the Bnei Yisrael, it therefore transpired that Pinchas enabled shalom to rest between the Bnei Yisrael and their Father in Heaven. And there is nothing greater than shalom between Yisrael and their Father in Heaven. Therefore Hashem gave him a hefty reward, measure for measure, the reward of shalom, which is the priesthood, which also places shalom between Yisrael and their Father in Heaven through them offering the sacrifices.
A truly zealous person for the sake of Hashem, is one who is only zealous for Hashem’s honour and he has no personal motives that brings him to perform the act. (And so these people who like to dampen any type of zealousness and yet speak about love for Hashem, they aren’t right, because there is a place for zealousness when it is motivated for the sake of Heaven. And conversely, those who [claim that] all their actions are from the perspective of zealousness, also aren’t right as explained.)
It once happened in a certain yeshiva that the rav who was giving a shiur had to leave the classroom for a few minutes. One of the students took advantage of the opportunity and he wanted to mess around, so he got up and put on the rav’s long jacket. Immediately one of the prominent students got up and demanded that the boy remove the jacket. When he refused, he slapped him across the face, for having disrespected the rav. Immediately, the student who wore the jacket retaliated with a slap and then the student slapped him back again for a second time! The student who wore the jacket stopped him and said, “For the first slap, I accept it with love because you were right to slap me for you were angry that I disrespected your rav, but for the second slap you only gave it to me because you took pity on your own honour because I retaliated with a slap and therefore I am not prepared to accept it.
We should learn from this story that when a person comes to point out to someone about their behaviour, he must carefully weigh his actions so that he doesn’t lose his reward because of what he says. For example, those who when they see someone talking in the bet kenesset they shout out “stop talking”, and embarrass the person who only spoke as a one-off. (Even though the sin of speaking in the bet kenesset especially during the tefillah is very severe and it is appropriate to object in the strongest terms [see Shulcha Aruch OH 124:7], nevertheless, first one must object gently.) And for sure if their intention was for the safe of Heaven, they wouldn’t behave in this way, but would think first and see how the honour of the bet kenesset may be appropriately preserved. So the end result is that not only have they inappropriately embarrassed their fellow for nothing but they also they haven’t been effective either. As it states in the book of Melachim (1, Ch. 18) that Hashem doesn’t want the prophecy of a person who advocates against the Jewish People.
Zealousness is a virtue, but must be only rarely used and in fact there are almost no suitable people to use this virtue with the appropriate care, properly avoiding any personal gain from their zealous act. Because the moment that the zealousness isn’t fully for the sake of Hashem, for His Honour and His Will, then immediately Hashem doesn’t want this action. Even Eilyahu HaNavi, Hashem said to him, go and anoint Elisha HaNavi in your place because I don’t want your zealousness. Even though you are from the descendants of Pinchas (and some say Pinchas is actually Eliyahu), nevertheless, you must be cautious with the virtue of zealousness, for through it Hashem’s Honour will increase in the world and Hashem will do His Will in the world. However, this is only when a person is zealous “for His zealousness” and not zealous for any other reason.