PARASHAH: Pinchas (Phineas)
ADDRESS: B'midbar (Numbers) 25:10-30:1 (29:40)
READING DATE: Shabbat
AUTHOR: Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy
(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)
Let’s begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:
"Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,
asher bachar banu m’kol ha-amim,
v’natan lanu eht Torah-to.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.
(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have selected us from among all the peoples,
and have given us your Torah.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.
Pinchas was a priest. He was a man of holiness. He was the grandson of Aharon, Moshe's late brother, so that also made him direct family. What was going through his mind as he watched the recent turn of events surrounding the people of Ba'al-P'or?
We have to imagine that growing up in a family such as his, that during his childhood he was given the opportunity to "soak up" holiness. Consistently, day in and day out, he was given a glimpse into the supernatural world of the awesome blessings of the God of all humanity! The Holy One had delivered the people from Egypt, from the clutches of slavery and bondage to themselves, never again to return! How then could he sit back and watch this blatant act of rebellion against the Torah of HaShem and not burn with righteous indignation on the inside?
He took action.
His spear became his instrument of justice, and in what I like to think of as a "moment of the Ruach HaKodesh" he stepped boldly into the office that was his. He interceded on the LORD's behalf by stopping the plague, which was sure to consume the people in HaShem's fury! For this, ADONAI rewarded him with a blessing!
"'I am giving him my covenant of shalom, making him a covenant with him and his descendants after him that the office of cohen will be theirs forever.' This is because he was zealous on behalf of his God and made atonement for the people of Isra'el." (B'midbar 25:12, 13)
What is the source of Pinchas' righteous indignation and what is meant by the "covenant of peace" that HaShem grants unto him? These sh'eil'ot (Torah questions) have puzzled even the most brilliant of Sages (Ibn Ezra, Abravanel, Ramban, etc). It is worth looking into a few possible answers. I can assure you that the candidates are quite interesting.
The ancient Midrashim (homiletic stories) bring out a most fascinating detail in regards to this pasuk (verse) in 25:11.
"Pinchas son of El’azar, son of Aharon the cohen..."
Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky of ‘Sichos in English’ gives us our selection of sh’eil’ot u’t’shuv’ot (questions and answers):
QUESTION: Our sages write [in the Gemara] that "Pinchas zeh Eliyahu" - "Pinchas is Eliyahu" - since Eliyahu lived generations after Pinchas, shouldn’t the saying have been "Eliyahu is Pinchas"
ANSWER: Eliyahu was one of the angels whom HaShem consulted when he said "Na'aseh adam" - "Let us create man" (B’resheet 1:26). Afterwards, the angel came to this mundane world clothed in the body of Pinchas and lived over 500 years to become the famous prophet Eliyahu. Consequently Eliyahu preceded Pinchas by many years.
Alternatively, when Pinchas killed Zimri, he also expired himself. At that time, however, he reached a spiritual level that merited him the name "Eliyahu" (a name is a life-force, see Tanya, Shaar Hayichud 1) through which he was enabled to return to earth. He continued, however, to be called by the name "Pinchas," although in reality "Pinchas zeh Eliyahu" - the person called "Pinchas" now had the life force of Eliyahu. Incidentally, according to the above it is understood why the Torah never identifies his father and mother. He is never mentioned as Eliyahu son of so and so, but known by the title "Naviy," "Tishbi," or "Giladi."
Pinchas performed an extremely violent and forceful act, so much so that the other tribes accused him of murder. Rashi quotes the Midrash; "She'hayu ha'shevatim meranenim acharav, ha'reitem et ben Puti zeh, shepitem avi aviv agalim le'avodah zarah harag nasi shevet be'Yisrael!" - "The other tribes were talking about Pinchas, 'Did you see this son of Puti (Yitro). His grandfather used to fatten calves for idol-worship, [that is why he found within himself the capacity] to kill a prince of one of the tribes of Yisra’el!'"
The Chazal (Sages of Antiquity) continue to speculate...
QUESTION: In the Torah the name Pinchas is written with a "yud", and according to the Zohar (237b) Pinchas with a "yud" has the numerical value of two hundred and eight, as does the name of the patriarch Yitzchak. What is the connection between Pinchas and Yitzchak?
ANSWER: The prophet Eliyahu encountered the false prophets of the idol Ba'al and challenged them to prove whose God was the true one. It was agreed that he and they would each prepare an offering, and the one whose offering would be consumed by a fire descending from heaven would be the representative of the authentic God. All their attempts to bring down fire were to no avail. When Eliyahu prayed, "Aneini HaShem aneini" - "Please God answer me" - a fire descended from heaven (see I Kings 18:19-40).
According to the Gemara (Berachot 26b) the three prayers of the day, Shacharit, Minchah, and Ma’ariv were originated by the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov respectively, and the Gemara (ibid. 6b) says that one should be very careful with praying the Minchah services since Eliyahu's prayers were answered during the afternoon prayer of Minchah.
Consequently, his name is written with a "yud," indicating the parallel between him and Yitzchak, alluding to the fact that Pinchas, who is Eliyahu, would be answered in his confrontation with the false prophets when he would recite Yitzchak's prayer - Minchah.
These answers, while attempting to teach us a didactic lesson, nevertheless are somewhat fanciful. I personally like the answer given by a modern scholar by the name of Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed of Beit-El Yeshiva (Yeshiva.org.il) in Isra'el:
One's intellect is the source of his moral character and personality. Only after one appreciates that that which is good is truly good, does he begin to yearn for it - and as a result act towards achieving that end. Human intellect is beyond emotion; in fact, it actually guides and even directs emotion. An act of "jealousy" on behalf of God, however, does not stem from the intellect. Man possesses a quality even higher than the intellect; it exists on the subconscious level, in the depths of one's spirit; it constantly strives to reveal itself and to appear via the intellect and emotion. The role of intellect and emotion is to neutralize those factors that block the manifestation of zealotry. [This model is used by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook (of blessed memory) to explain the phenomenon of Emunah, or faith. He stresses that emunah exists on a plane above and beyond intellect and emotion].
It is from these depths that jealousy must spring; this jealousy - or zealotry - reveals itself once one puts aside all factors that inhibit the manifestation of his inner cleaving to the Creator of the Universe. This zealotry responds to any even slight manifestation of Hillul HaShem, or desecration of God's name. Zealotry that has its roots in an understanding of the Divine - inspires the "zealot" to reach a state of completion - or Sheleimut: "Behold, I am giving him My covenant of Peace (Shalom).
In Tractate Sanhedrin, our sages enumerate the deeds, which, if done by a Jew, warrant "Zealots smiting him." For example, "One who steals a vessel for use in the Temple... one who has relations with a Gentile woman..." and - even a Cohen who serves in the Temple while in a state of ritual impurity - are legitimately attacked and killed by zealots. The reason for Torah-sanctioned vigilance in these kinds of cases? The direct offense committed by the transgressor, who himself has stricken at the heart of the bond between the Children of Israel and the Holy One, Blessed be He.
Our sages explain that true zealotry may be defined as a situation in which the zealot does not inquire of a scholar how to act in the case at hand; in fact, should he make such an inquiry, a scholar would be bound not to instruct him to take action. Why? The very question as to how to respond indicates that the person has not internalized the level of zealotry required to permit his unilateral action. True zealotry flows naturally, from an inability of the person to tolerate the desecration of God’s name. A well-known Torah dictum states that in situations of desecration to God’s name, one does not allot honor even to a Rabbi.
Zealous for the
sake of God’s Holy Name. This was the supremacy of Pinchas’ fury. Even
though what he did was not considered "peaceful" in our eyes,
nevertheless the Almighty awarded him the peace prize as a cohen
That God himself established the priesthood is of course well known from other passages. To be sure, recalling certain recent events in the life of ‘Am Yisra’el, according to Numbers 16:5 the Levitical priests were commissioned by HaShem, separated unto God, and were allowed to approach God:
"Then he said to Korah and all his followers: 'In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him."
priesthood began with the tribe of Levi and proceeded through the sons
of the family of Aharon (Aaron), according to Numbers 18:1,8 and Exodus
28:1, which says, "Have Aharon you brother brought to you from among
the Isra’elites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, El’azar and
Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests." However, physical blemishes
disqualified any male descendant of Aharon, according to Leviticus
21:17-23, from which 21:17 is presented: "The Lord said to Moshe, 'Say
to Aharon: 'For the generations to come non of your descendants who has
a defect may come near to offer the food of his God.'"
As great and awesome as their responsibilities were, the priests’ job was only temporal. Ultimately their place in the community was to point the way to a future Cohen Gadol (High Priest) that would "bring to a fullness" their own office
Yeshua HaMashiach is the ultimate and final Cohen HaGadol, and as such, he is possessor of the final "Covenant of Shalom"!
Why, even the great Torah personage Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek) pales in comparison to Yeshua! Consider:
The name Mel-chiz-ed-ek (KJV) or Malki-Tzedek as it is written in the Hebrew, means, my king is righteousness, or king of righteousness. He is first mentioned in the Torah in the book of Genesis, in a meeting with the patriarch Avram. Chapter 14 verses 18-20 reads, Malki-Tzedek king of Shalem brought out bread and wine. He was cohen [priest] of El Elyon [God Most High], so he blessed him with these words: Blessed be Avram by El Elyon, maker of heaven of earth; and blessed be El Elyon, who handed your enemies over to you. He is again mentioned in the highly messianic Psalm 110 at verse 4. Finally he figures in the New Covenant book of Hebrews at Chapter 5:6,10,20; and is the subject of Chapter 7.
Although the Torah mentions him receiving the tithe from Our Father Avraham, in contradistinction to Pinchas, no record of his official lineage (i.e. to king and to priest) is given in the immediate text. This absence has caused no small speculation on the part of the rabbis of antiquity. Especially since in Judaism the roles of king and priest are separate roles! Normally (excluding the first king, Saul of Kish), the kingly line runs through Dah-vid (David). Accordingly, the priestly lineage is traced through Aharon the brother of Moshe. To be sure Pinchas is of this lineage.
But Malki-Tzedek was both king (of Shalem) and priest (of HaShem the Most High). How is this possible? I believe, initially HaShem alluded to the answer in the prophecy stated about the Messiah in Psalm 110. This should have tipped the rabbis off about HaShems provision of a future ruler who would belong to both the priestly and kingly lines. If the rabbis could have only read Hebrews, they could have seen that only one person in history ever fulfilled both of these roles and his name is Yeshua! If the rabbis of today would do the same, I believe the same conclusion would be reached!
But the book of Hebrews says something else about this man Malki-Tzedek that is very peculiar indeed. In Chapter 7:3-8, it is stated, There is no record of his father, mother, ancestry, birth or death. It does not state that he never had any of these, nor that he is alive forever more. It says he is testified to be still alive, which means midrashically (for teaching purposes only), not literally. Even the Babylonian Talmud has him identified as the son of Shem, Noachs son (Talmud Bavli, Ndarim 32b). The Torah only leads us to that seeming conclusion without explicitly stating it. We need to be careful when interpreting the text here. Do not make it say something it does not. But by seeing in Malki-Tzedek our Messiah Yeshua, the connection is strengthened as to his (Yeshuas) role as both king and priest! To be sure, I believe thats exactly what the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) had in mind when he inspired King Dah-vid to make the messianic prophecy about his future ancestor.
Another feature of
the priests is worthy of comparison with Yeshua, and that is their
longevity in office. Levitical priests served for 25 years, from age 25
to age 50, according to Numbers 8:24,25.
According to I
Chronicles chapter 15, 16:4-6, 37-43, Dah-vid rearranged the Levitical
priesthood into 24 courses (orders); he assigned 16 courses to El’azar,
and 8 courses to Ithamar. This rearrangement was chartered because of a
population explosion in Dah-vid's reign.
But what does Hebrews now teach us?
11 Even though the Law of Moses says that the priests must be descendants of Levi, those priests cannot make anyone perfect. So there needs to be a priest like Melchizedek, rather than one from the priestly family of Aaron.
12 And when the rules for selecting a priest are changed, the Law must also be changed.
13 The person we are talking about is our Lord, who came from a tribe that had never had anyone to serve as a priest at the altar.
14 Everyone knows he came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never said that priests would come from that tribe.
15 All of this becomes clearer, when someone who is like Melchizedek is appointed to be a priest.
16 That person wasn't appointed because of his ancestors, but because his life can never end.
17 The Scriptures say about him, "You are a priest forever, just like Melchizedek."
18-19 In this way a weak and useless command was put aside, because the Law cannot make anything perfect. At the same time, we are given a much better hope, and it can bring us close to God.
20-21 God himself made a promise when this priest was appointed. But he did not make a promise like this when the other priests were appointed. The promise he made is, "I, the Lord, promise that you will be a priest forever! And I will never change my mind!"
22 This means that Jesus guarantees us a better agreement with God.
23 There have been a lot of other priests, and all of them have died.
24 But Jesus will never die, and so he will be a priest forever!
25 He is forever able to save the people he leads to God, because he always lives to speak to God for them.
26-27 Jesus is the high priest we need. He is holy and innocent and faultless, and not at all like us sinners. Jesus is honored above all beings in heaven, and he is better than any other high priest. Jesus doesn't need to offer sacrifices each day for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. He offered a sacrifice once for all, when he gave himself.
28 The Law appoints priests who have weaknesses. But God's promise, which came later than the Law, appoints his Son. And he is the perfect high priest forever. (Hebrews 7:11-28, Contemporary English Version [CEV])
Towards the end of their wanderings on the way to the Land of Canaan, the children of Israel are enticed by the daughters of Midian, they stay with them and worship their god, Baal-Peor (B’midbar 25:1-3). This ritual orgy arouses God’s ire and He brings a plague on Israel and threatens to wipe out the nation (Pesachim 8-9). Pinchas son of Eliezer the priest is zealous for God and before Moses and Israel he attacks with his spear "Zimri son of Salu, prince of the House of Shimoni" and the Midianite woman that was with him, Cozbi daughter of Zur, head of the people of a clan in Midian, and brings to an end the plague (verses 7-8, 14, 15). Due to his zealousness for God and his action that resulted from his own instincts and not from a heavenly command, God rewards him with "the priestly covenant for all eternity" - "to him and his descendants thereafter" (verse 13).
This covenant that God makes with the Priestly caste stands at the highpoint of a series of four covenants in the Torah which are mostly similar in terms of content and structure. The first of these covenants is made with Noah and his sons, with the renewing humanity after the flood (B’resheet 9:8-17). The second covenant God makes with Abraham between the birth of Ishmael and the birth of Isaac, with the change of his name from "Abram" to "Abraham" and the promise that he will be "father of many nations" (B’resheet 17:1-14). The third covenant, the covenant of the Sabbath and its observance, was made with the children of Israel when Moses stood on Mount Sinai, before he received the tablets of the testimony (Sh’mot 31:12-17). The fourth covenant is that which is mentioned above, an eternal covenant of priesthood for Pinchas and his descendants.
It is clearly noticeable that the four covenants described by the Torah are made with groups of decreasing size: the entire humanity; all the descendants of Abraham; the children of Israel and finally the priestly caste. The four concentric circles, one within the other, represent a progressive process of selection. As the circle we are studying gets smaller, so the level of closeness to God of the human group it represents grows. The system of covenants concludes with the priesthood which testifies to the trend of the whole series and points to the basis of this tradition among circles within the priesthood.
The four covenants are eternal covenants that cannot be broken. God promises Noah and his sons that he will never again bring a flood to the whole world and he accompanies this promise by giving a sign: "which I give between me and you and between every living creature that is with you for all generations" (B’resheet 9:12). Also the covenant with Abraham is "for your generations an eternal covenant to be for you a God and to your descendants after you" (ibid 17:7). The covenant of the Sabbath which is given to the children of Israel requires that it be observed for all eternity: "And the children of Israel observed the Sabbath, to keep the Sabbath for all generations, an eternal covenant" (Sh’mot 31:16 [and this verse is found in "Kiddush Rabba" [The Great Sanctification ritual]) and a similar wording is found in the covenant made with Pinchas: "and it will be for him and his descendants after him a covenant of priesthood for eternity" (B’midbar 25:13).
The two covenants forming a ‘framework’ for the others, the first and fourth covenants, were established as a result of calamities. The first comes as a result of the flood, the punishment of a sinful humanity, and in the words of God: "the end of all flesh comes before me because the whole world is filled with evil because of them and behold I will destroy them with the earth … and behold I bring the flood of water on the earth to destroy all flesh which has in it the breath of life under the heavens, all that is on the earth shall die" (B’resheet 6:13-17). The fourth covenant was a result of the incident with Baal-Peor, and here God wants to destroy the entire Jewish people and only the act of bravery by Pinchas brings the plague to an end. In God’s words: "Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aaron the priest has turned my anger away from the children of Israel with his zealousness on my behalf among them and I did not destroy the children of Israel with my jealousy" (B’midbar 25:11). In the two ‘framework’ covenants, the covenant is signed with the righteous of the nation, with Noah and Pinchas. These two covenant are given as a reward, recompense for the righteous, and therefore the one who is obligated to keep them is God and there is no obligation falling on the people who are included in the covenant. It is God that promises to never again bring a flood to the world, in the first covenant: "and I shall establish my covenant with you and there will not be another flood to destroy the earth" (B’resheet 9:11), and in the same way a promise is made to Pinchas: "therefore I say, behold I give him my covenant of peace and it will be for him and his descendants after him a covenant of priesthood forever" (B’midbar 25:12-13).
In contrast, the common ground of the two middle covenants in the range is the observance of the conditions of the covenant - the obligation to observe, or in the language of the Bible "to guard", the sign of the covenant. In the covenant with Abraham, circumcision is the sign of the covenant: "this is the covenant that you shall observe between me and you and your descendants after you to circumcise every male and you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and you" (B’resheet 18:1-11). The Sabbath is the sign of the covenant made with the children of Israel at Sinai: "And the children of Israel observed the Sabbath, to keep the Sabbath for all generations, an eternal covenant between me and the children of Israel, a sign for all eternity" (Sh’mot 31:16-17).
A sign of the covenant also appears in the first covenant as a result of the flood, and it is a rainbow that appears in the clouds: "And God said, this is the sign which I give between me and you and between every living creature that is with you for all generations. My rainbow I give in the clouds and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth and it will be that when I bring clouds over the earth and a rainbow is seen in the clouds and I will remember my covenant between me and you and between every living creature in every flesh and there will not be again water for floods to destroy all flesh … and God said to Noah, this is the sign of the covenant which I established between me and all flesh which is upon the earth" (B’resheet 9:12-17). Only the fourth covenant lacks a sign. The lack of a sign derives from the nature of the covenant, which in this case is identical to the sign: in the existence of the priesthood there is a sign which can be seen clearly - the existence of priests from the priestly house of "Pinchas son of Aaron the priest". To this uniqueness of the fourth covenant there is an additional facet: only with this covenant is word of the covenant not given to the person that the covenant involves (or: also involving him): Noah, Abraham and Moses are leaders of Israel (that the covenant and the sign of the covenant - the observance of the Sabbath - is incumbent on them too). Word of the covenant of priesthood is not given directly to him but rather to Moses, the leader of Israel, who will be a faithful witness to the giving of the promise to the house of priests. The uniqueness of the fourth component of the system of covenants bears witness to the fact that we have before us an expression of a literary template commonly found in the Bible, the model of Three-Four, in which the fourth component represents the climax of the unit and its uniqueness. In many examples of this template there is also a close connection between the third component, which directs us in an anticipation of the climax, and the fourth component, which concludes this sophisticated literary structure. And in fact we see that the common ground between the final two covenants is the giving of the justification for the existence of the covenant: "because for six days God made the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day God ceased and rested" (Sh’mot 31:17); "since he was jealous on behalf of his God and atoned for the children of Israel" (B’midbar 25:13).
Here we see that one who reads the Torah needs to be aware not only of the portion that is before his eyes but also the connections and their interlinking connections between the various portions, which, when they come together, create a sophisticated literary structure, which show the trends common to them and in this case the trend towards glorifying the priesthood, which is situated at the center of the human circle and at its head.
The closing blessing is as follows:
"Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,
asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,
v’chay-yeh o’lam nata-b’tochenu.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.
(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have given us your Torah of truth,
and have planted everlasting life within our midst.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy firstname.lastname@example.org