Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas Pinchas. Baruch Hashem, this version reflects his review of the write-up. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to YUTorah.org's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that if you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.
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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Pinchas 5774
With the kidnapping and murder of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach, the rockets raining down on cities all over Eretz Yisroel, and now the danger our sons face in their operations against the terrorists in Gaza, it has been a very difficult few weeks. I therefore want to speak about the holy form of retaliation. The psukim (Bamidbar 25:11-12) contain a seeming contradiction: “Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the kohein turned My anger away from the children of Israel by zealously avenging Me among them so that I not destroy the children of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore I say, ‘Behold I give him My covenant of peace.’” How does Hashem’s characterization of Pinchas as a zealous avenger of His honor square with the presumably appropriate blessing of peace?
Kohanim – Loving or Exacting?
Chazal speak about the personality traits of kohanim in many places. The Mishna (Avos 1:12) says, “Be among the students of Aharon, loving peace, pursuing peace, loving every person and drawing them close to Torah.” Similarly, the Navi (Malachi 2:6) says about the personality of the kohein, “In peace and uprightness he went with Me, and he brought back many from sin.” Kohanim are known as being so humble that according to the Gemara (Kiddushin 70b), if one finds a kohein who is brazen and lacks shame, it is doubtful whether he is truly a kohein. Every time the kohanim bless the Jewish people, he make the blessing, “Who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aharon and commanded us to bless His people Israel with love.”
On the other hand, the Gemara also says (Bava Basra 160b) that kohanim are generally very exacting in their dealings with others. And Levi, the progenitor of the kohanim (along with Shimon) avenged the horrible mistreatment of his sister Dina by Shchem, saying (Bereishis 34:31), “Shall our sister be made into a harlot?” And it was the tribe of Levi who answered the call (Shmos 32:26), “Whoever is for Hashem, come to me!” They heeded Moshe’s request and slaughtered thousands of other Jews who participated in the worship of the golden calf. Even in the daily life of the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash, they were constantly involved in slaughtering the sacrifices, catching blood, carrying blood, and sprinkling blood. Their lives were surrounded by blood. And at the time of the Greek occupation of Eretz Yisroel, it was the Chashmonayim, the kohanim, who would no longer tolerate the degradation of the Jewish people and led an ultimately successful revolt against the Greeks.
On one hand, the kohanim are associated with peace, love, and blessing. And on the other hand, they are associated with blood, zeal, vengeance, and an exacting nature. How do we reconcile these two conflicting descriptions of the personality of the kohanim?
Pinchas and Eliyahu
It is known (Zohar Ki Sisa 190a) that Eliyahu Hanavi has the same soul as Pinchas. But this connection is fraught with apparent contradictions as well, as illustrated in the piyut we sing after Shabbos about Eliyahu Hanavi: “The man who was zealous for Hashem’s sake; the man for whom peace was announced through Yekusiel [Moshe Rebbeinu].” Eliyahu was known as a very strong zealot in Navi. Because of the Jewish people’s sins, he decreed a famine in Eretz Yisroel (Melachim I 17:1). He also personally slaughtered 400 prophets of the Baal (ibid. at 18:40). And when a captain and fifty men were sent by Achazia to capture Eliyahu, he called forth a fire from Heaven which burned all of them alive (Melachim II 1:10). Eliyahu Hanavi was an uncompromising zealot for the truth and radiated a sense of great awe and fear. Eliyahu even said about himself (Melachim I 19:14) “I have been zealous for Hashem.”
Yet on the other hand, the last prophet in Tanach (Malachi 3:23-24) tells us that at the end of days, it will be Eliyahu who will come and “turn the hearts of the fathers back through their children and the hearts of the children back through their fathers.” This Navi who is otherwise known as the ultimate zealot will bring peace between the generations and, in his prior life as Pinchas, was blessed with peace. How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction in the characterization of Pinchas/Eliyahu as both a zealot and a bringer of peace?
Love and Jealousy – Two Sides of a Coin
The reality is clearly that the two seemingly opposite charactaristics of love/peace and zealousness/jealousy are not contradictory at all. The pasuk in Shir Hashirim (8:6) says, “Place me like a seal upon your heart because love is strong as death, jealousy is as powerful as the depths, its coals are like coals of fire, the flame of G-d.” True zeal and jealousy are the natural result of love.
The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Raba 8) says that “Hashem loves you” and goes on to explain the pasuk as follows: “‘Love is strong as death;’ in the future, the Holy One will avenge Zion with great jealousy, as the pasuk (Zecharia 8:2) says, ‘Thus says Hashem, I have become jealous of Zion with a great jealousy.’” Real love naturally results in jealousy when someone from the outside drives a wedge between two people who love each other or if someone attempts to or actually succeeds in hurting one of them.
The Zohar (Vayechi 245a) says, “The love of a person that is not accompanied by jealousy is not love.” If one is not bothered when someone he or she loves is hurt, it is a sign that the person does not love that person at all.
This is therefore the source for the holy aspect of the quality of retaliation. To be clear, I am not talking about the degraded, cruel form of retaliation we saw when an innocent Arab boy was allegedly killed in a horrible way by Jewish people. Such an act is a terrible sin, endangers our entire nation, and creates a terrible desecration of G-d’s name.
The Ramchal describes the relationship between zealousness/jealousy and love in the life of a pious Jew as follows (Chelkei Hachassidus): “It is obvious that if one loves his friend, he cannot tolerate seeing another hitting him or denigrating him. He will undoubtedly go out to assist him. So too one who loves the Name of G-d cannot tolerate seeing people desecrate It, G-d forbid…”
It is therefore clear that the root of jealousy and zealousness is a love that does not allow one to be indifferent or apathetic to the subject of his love. This love is why the Torah (Bamidbar 5:14) describes the reaction of a husband whose wife has secluded herself with another man by saying, “And a spirit of jealousy came upon him and he became jealous of his wife.” This is why the kohanim, Pinchas, and Eliyahu, who had such great love for Hashem and for the Jewish people, are also known as being zealots.
Expressing this idea, the Sfas Emes explains that the pasuk (Bamidbar 25:7), “And he took a spear in his hand” as follows: The root word for spear (רמח) has the same letters as the Aramaic word for love (רחימותא). Pinchas killed Zimri and Kozbi, but his entire motivation was a love for Hashem and the Jewish people and a desire that the relationship between them not be defiled.
Hashem loves us and that is the source of His “jealousy.” It is as if Hashem is telling us (Amos 3:2), “You are the only one I love of all of the families of the earth.” This is reflected in halacha as well. According to most poskim, shituf, believing in Hashem along with some other power, is not punishable, and is perhaps even permissible, for non-Jews. But it is forbidden and punishable for Jews. Hashem’s love for us is so great that He lets nothing come between us. But His relationship with the nations of the world is more distant, such that if they engage in shituf, it does not shake that relationship to the same extent. There is simply not as much intimacy there.
Hashem describes Himself (Shmos 20:5) as a “jealous G-d.” That is why He says (Shmos 22:19) that we may not sacrifice to anyone “other than Hashem alone.” Our relationship with Hashem is like a loving husband and wife. Of course one of them would be jealous if someone else inserted him or herself between the two. In Pinchas’s time, there were those who stood by and were able to tolerate those who brought idolatry and immorality into our relationship with Hashem. They were complacent. But Pinchas was not one of them. Like the old song says, “I only have eyes for you.” Pinchas realized our relationship cannot be with anyone “other than Hashem alone.” That is why the Navi (Malachi 2:5) says about Pinchas/Eliyahu, “My covenant of life and peace was with him.”
Kohanim also come from a perspective of great love, and depending on the circumstances, that love expresses itself in different ways. As we see with Eliyahu Hanavi, an intolerance for those who would hurt our people is the only way to achieve true peace.
With this in mind, we can appreciate the words of the piyut we sing after Shabbos: “A Tishbite man will save us from the mouth of the lions.” It would be too much of a compliment to the Hamas terrorists to call them “lions,” but with Hashem’s help, the Israeli Defense Forces will save our people from the rockets fired by the Hamas cockroaches in Gaza.
May Hashem keep everyone in Eretz Yisroel safe, may He protect the soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces, and may he make them successful in rooting out the terrorist infestation in the south of Eretz Yisroel. And then, with G-d’s help, we will merit to see the fulfillment of that which we sing in the piyut: “He will announce good news for us, he will cause the sons to rejoice over the fathers after Shabbos… Fortunate is one who sees his [Eliyahu’s] face in a dream, fortunate is he who merits to greet [Eliyahu] with ‘Shalom,” and who [Eliyahu] answers with ‘Shalom.’ May Hashem bless his nation with peace.”