“Pinchas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, hath turned My wrath away from the children of Israel, in that he was very jealous for My sake among them, so that I consumed not the children of Israel in My jealousy” Bamidbar 25:11.
Prologue: Settled in Shittim, 24,000 Jewish people were enticed by the proclivity of Zimri, the elder statesman from the tribe of Shimon, who led a rebellion when he argued before Moshe that Kozbi, a Midyanite princess, should be his wife. Hashem was angered by this egregious conduct and demanded that Moshe order the death of the leaders who attached themselves to Baal-Peor. Yet it was Pinchas, not Moshe, who took a spear, and in an unprecedented act of zealotry, struck a fatal blow to Zimri and Kozbi, killing them both instantly. Pinchas’ zealotry merited the Jewish people with a cessation to the plague, and on a personal level, the divine blessings of shalom and kehuna, peace and priesthood, respectively. How do we understand the behavior of the Jewish people, and how did Pinchas usher in the elements of peace and priesthood?
Temporary setbacks in our performance of Torah and mitzvot can ostensibly serve as a catalyst by which we can solidify our resolve to strengthen shortcomings and victoriously emerge when faced with the spiritual challenges of tomorrow. Coinciding with the onset of the Three Weeks, 17 Tammuz, which culminate with 9 Av, the ominous date of the destruction of the first and second Batai Mikdash, the actions of Pinchas, explains the Kedushat Levi, can perhaps be best understood through the timeless words of the prophet Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations, 1:8, Chet chata Yerushalayim al kain l’nidah hayta—Jerusalem has grievously sinned, therefore she is compared to one who is unclean. In this context, the word chet is defined as unintentional sin. However, chet also means “cleansed, or an act of purification,”, as the verse states, Vayichatai et haMizbei’ach—and they (leviim) cleansed the altar (Vayikra, 8:15), and, Vayischatu haLeviim vayichabsu bigdayhem—the levites cleansed themselves and washed their clothes (Bamidbar 8:21).
As had occurred prior to the siege of Yerushalayim, chet chata Yerushalayim—the Jewish people had committed a series of miscalculations that culminated in the destruction of two Batai Mikdash, al kain l’nidah hayta. However, we ask Hashem to please find the positive within the negative, for in the very near future we hope to usher in the building of the third Beit Hamikdash—may it speedily occur in our day—when our transient shortcomings will be replaced by a cleansed state of purity. We can think positive and act positive for we have a rule that if someone commits a transgression due to his natural urges having proved too strong for him to resist them, he is not subject to the same penalty as someone who has committed the same transgression in order to anger God. Hence, while we recognize that the status of the nida is a temporary limitation of potential, it should be compared to a remarkable chesed for it is a necessary prerequisite to renewed energy and unbridled potential.
Metaphorically, the nida allows the Jewish nation to rebuild its spiritual position and serve as a healthy reminder of our eternal commitment to Torah and mitzvot. In this manner, Pinchas managed to quell the anger of Hashem toward the Jewish people by arguing, that yes, the Jewish people were led astray by powerful influences that adversely clouded our ability to properly gauge our moral compass, which led to unintentional acts of immorality and idolatry. However, we quickly regained our moral footing, learned from our collective mistakes and pledged to solidify our steadfast commitment to God. All great inventors recognize that failure is indeed a necessary precedent to growth.
Therefore, Pinchas’ courageous act merited him eternal peace and priesthood for he not only saved thousands of lives, he managed to defend the Jewish people by praying for divine compassion in the aftermath of the plague, intimating to God that miscalculations should not be interpreted, Heaven forbid, as a permanent departure from Torah and mitzvot, but rather as a temporary setback in time, affording us the unique opportunity to “clean” up our act, rebuild from within, and develop a more resilient, robust set of Torah-based values for the future.
Mordechai Plotsker runs a popular 10-minute nightly shiur on the parsha with a keen interest on the invigorating teachings of the Berditchever Rav, the Kedushas Levi. Plotsker resides in Elizabeth with his wife and children, and can be reached by email at [email protected]