Parshat Pinchas begins by honoring Pinchas for his zealous and immediate response to the Israelite male sinning in public view with the Midianite female.
“When Pinchas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he left the assembly and, taking a spear in his hand, he followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped.” (BaMidbar 25:7,8)
And thus Parshat Pinchas begins:“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Pinchas, son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest, was the one 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.
לָכֵ֖ן אֱמֹ֑ר הִנְנִ֨י נֹתֵ֥ן ל֛וֹ אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י שָׁלֽוֹם-Therefore tell him that I have given him My covenant of peace. And this will be a covenant of eternal priesthood to him and descendants after him. It is given to him because he zealously took up God’s cause and made atonement for the Israelites.” (Ibid, 11-13)
This violent zealous act earns Pinchas a ‘Brit Shalom- A Divine Covenant of Shalom/Peace’ and establishes a “covenant of eternal priesthood for him and his descendants after him ” (Ibid:13)
Religious zealousness has historically been and continues to often be a destructive and evil force. We can currently see many examples of this within Israel and worldwide. Yet Pinchas’s zealotry earned ‘him and his descendants’ a ‘covenant of peace’. Why was this zealotry favorable in HaShem’s eyes? What are the lessons for us to learn from this?
Rav Kook discusses Pinchas’s actions in Notebook 6, written in Switzerland during WW1 (1915). He writes:
“The Torah specifies that he is ‘Pinchas Ben Elazar Ben Aharon HaCohen’…He was zealous with a pure intent for the sake of heaven… the Holy One specified his family connection [grandson of Aaron HaCohen] to make known to all that the true nature of Pinchas is the same as his grandfather Aharon HaCohen-good, beloved to all and ‘rodef shalom-a pursuer of peace’ (Pirkei Avot 1:12).
He is very far from being a murderer and this act was completely in opposition to his inner nature. It was done strictly for the sake of heaven. Therefore Pinchas became worthy that a covenant of peace be established with him, both in body and soul. His action “turned back My anger from the children of Israel” (Ibid, 25:11)….
His zealous love of HaShem and His Honor…stopped the plague [of HaShem’s wrath] from spreading through His nation….
This is in distinction to regular zealousness that demolishes and destroys because of the hatred in the heart of the zealous one.
HaShem specified that Pinchas was the grandson of Aaron…to teach us that the true zealot for HaShem must act in a way that builds and fixes [and prevents further ruination]…This bring eternal merit to the world.” (Olat Raya 1:394)
Religious zealousness can be a very dangerous and destructive force. It is often a supposedly ‘religious’ act that is motivated by sick inner hate. Rav Kook’s son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook TZ’L taught his students that there is a pure zealousness that comes from true Torah purity and there is an evil zealousness whose psychological foundation is hatred and anger. (Sichot HaRetziya, Bamidbar 327/8).
Rav Kook was very aware of this danger. During WW1(1916) in London he wrote: “The quality of zealousness must be purified when it approaches the area of the holy. It must be a clean Divine zealousness…Honest self assessment must clarify that the foundation for one’s zealousness is not because of one person’s envy of another [based on Kohelet 4:4]. This type of zealousness will only ‘rot the bones’ (Mishle 14:30). It must be a Divine zealousness that can offer its practitioners a covenant of peace.” (Notebook 8: 39)
Pure zealousness is a great blessing to the world. Rav Kook elaborates in an entry written in Switzerland in 1915: “When Divine love reaches its highest level it is transformed to Divine zealousness in its pure state….It then becomes an active force that spreads love to the entire expanse of life and all its concepts and actions….
The quality of Divine zealousness [rooted in Divine love] is embedded in the community of Israel. The capacity for elevated eternal life is thus part of Israel. The highest active and actual love is the [true] character of life. “Whoever is Divinely zealous is not controlled by the demon of death.” (Zohar 1:209b)
קִנְאַ֛ת יְהֹוָ֥ה צְבָא֖וֹת תַּעֲשֶׂה־זֹּֽאת” -The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will bring this to pass.” (Kings 2: 19-31)
.”-לְמַרְבֵּ֨ה הַמִּשְׂרָ֜ה וּלְשָׁל֣וֹם אֵֽין־קֵ֗ץ”-Abundant authority can bring endless peace.” (Notebook 6:204)
Rav Kook is teaching us to be very self-aware when we are feeling or seeing zealousness. If it is a zealousness that is a result of hatred, anger or jealousy then it will be a destructive force. If it is a zealousness that emerges out of a deep and loving concern that Divine ideals manifest in the world, then it is a source of blessing.
Sometimes a strong and perhaps violent response may be needed to immediately stop evil in its tracks. Most people do not have the courage to act authoritatively to prevent evil from existing and spreading. We do not love the Divine ideals enough to act.
Rav Kook is teaching us that because of Pinchas’s holy zealotry “the quality of Divine zealousness [rooted in Divine love] is embedded in the community of Israel.”
Our love for HaShem and commitment to the Divine Ideals that will fix and elevate the world must move us to act powerfully and authoritatively to stop evil everywhere.
Then we will truly earn “בְּרִיתִ֖ השָׁלֽוֹם-the covenant of peace’.
Quickly in our days.