The end of last week’s parasha, Balak, narrates the story in which many of the men of our people pursued the women of Moab and their god Baal Peor. Zimri ben Salu, prince of the tribe of Shimon, then publicly began to consort with a Midianite woman. When Pinchas witnessed this gross public immorality, he acted on the Torah’s mandate and executed Zimri and his Midianite woman.
In this week’s parasha, Pinchas, the actions of Pinchas were rewarded with Hashem’s highest approbation, the brit shalom (Covenant of Peace), the brit kehunat olam (Eternal Covenant of the Priesthood).
In his gloss on Sefer Bamidbar 25:6, Rashi notes, “At the incident of the Golden Calf, Moses [successfully] confronted 600,000 as it says, ‘He ground it [the Golden Calf] until it was powder’.”
Moshe, no less than Pinchas, sought to avenge G-d’s glory. Yet, Pinchas alone received the brit kehunat olam. This is an exegetical challenge that has captivated our commentators’ attention throughout the ages.
Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein (1860-1941) suggests one of the most cogent solutions to this problem. Here is a paraphrase of his position:
It is true that Moshe removed Hashem’s anger from the Jewish people on a number of occasions, including the episodes of the Golden Calf and the Spies. Yet, this was for only a relatively short period of time.
As a result, the reconciliation between G-d and the Jewish people that Moshe achieved was not on the level of complete peace.
In contrast, Pinchas was able to bring about a complete reconciliation that totally removed any anger from Hashem toward our people. Therefore, Pinchas, and Pinchas alone, was rewarded with Hashem’s Covenant of Peace. (Torah Temimah on Sefer Bamidbar, chapter 25, comment 24)
In sum, according to Rav Epstein, since Pinchas achieved a total reconciliation between Hashem and the Jewish people, he was deserving of the Covenant of Peace.
he peace that Pinchas was able to bring about motivated Chazal to identify Eliyahu the Prophet (ninth century BCE) as Pinchas’ spiritual reincarnation: “Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: ‘Pinchas is Eliyahu.’ The Holy One Blessed be He said to Pinchas: ‘You have placed peace between Me and the Jewish people in this world; so, too, shall you do so in the future’.”
As the text states: “Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the L-rd, that he may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers.” (Sefer Malachi 3:23-24] (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, Pinchas I)
Chazal further underscore the role of Eliyahu as the herald of shalom ba’olam (peace in the world) in a parallel text to our midrash, found in the concluding mishnah of Mishnah Eduyot: “ “[Eliyahu] will come to bring about peace in our world. As the text states: ‘Lo, I will send you Eliyahu the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the L-rd, that he may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers’.” (Sefer Malachi 3:23-24)
Chazal teach us time and time again that Eliyahu’s ultimate purpose is to herald the coming of the Mashiach. What will this soon-to-be-realized period be like? Yeshayahu, the great eighth century BCE prophet and sage, offered one of the most famous descriptions of this longed-for time:
“And it shall be at the end of the days, that the mountain of the L-rd’s house shall be firmly established at the top of the mountains, and it shall be raised above the hills, and all the nations shall stream to it. And many peoples shall go, and they shall say, ‘Come, let us go up to the L-rd’s mount, to the house of the G-d of Jacob, and let Him teach us of His ways, and we will go in His paths,’ for out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem. And he shall judge between the nations and reprove many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Sefer Yeshayahu 2:2-4)
May the Mashiach come soon and in our days to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash and bring everlasting peace to all mankind. V’chane yihi ratzon.