Thursday, July 9, 2015

Parsha: Pinchas - Restoring the Equilibrium

Rav Aryeh Leibowitz

Pinchas’ act – when viewed in a vacuum - appears to be cruel and brazen.  Yet, as it is presented by the Torah, the correctness of his behavior is unquestionable.  In the Torah's portrayal, Pinchas’ act of vengeance was not sinful, rather it was the act of Zimri and Cuzbi that was the sin.  But what exactly was Pinchas trying to accomplish with his zealous act?

Perhaps the answer is seen in Pinchas' reward: A "covenant of shalom."  What is “shalom?”  The true definition is: equilibrium or balance.  Shalom, in its greatest expression, is when there is harmonious coexistence of opposing forces. Hashem is actually described as one who makes shalom in Heaven (עושה שלום במרומיו), for he is able to bring together opposites, such as אש and מים – the “stuff” that makes up the שמים.  For this reason shalom also means peace, as in the peace that exists between nations or that which signifies the conclusion of war.  When a husband and wife, two very different creatures, are able to live harmonious under the same roof, it is called shalom bayis.

From this perspective, perhaps we can suggest that the act of Zimri and Kuzbi destroyed a certain moral and spiritual equilibrium in the nation.  Pinchas reinstated that balance by eliminating them, and sending a crucial message, at a crucial time, to the masses.  The restorative and redemptive nature of Pinchas’ act was confirmed by Hashem when he granted Pinchas the “covenant of shalom.”

Another important lesson is learned from the actions of Pinchas.  Pinchas demonstrated that harmony is not always achieved through passivity or meekness.  Sometimes, extreme situations require firm, and even extreme, actions.  Perhaps this Torah principle is expressed in the pasuk: ה' עז לעמו יתן ה' יברך את עמו בשלום.  Hashem grants His nation strength, and it is specifically through strength that they achieve peace.  This sentiment was once echoed by American president Ronald Reagan who cautioned his nation during the cold war to not be fooled by the “illusion of peace,” but to realize that they must “find peace through strength.”

Defining shalom as harmonious co-existence, or a state of equilibrium, explains why Pinchas was also rewarded with priesthood.  The primary role of the Kohen is to facilitate co-existence and harmony.  The paradigm of this on the inter-personal level was Ahron ha-Kohen, who was known for “making shalom and pursuing shalom.”  But each and every Kohen also fulfilled this mission when he brought korbanos on behalf of the nation.  The Korbanos serve to sow harmony between man and Hashem.  The exact explanation of this is beyond the scope of this current dvar Torah, but suffice it for now to quote the words of Chazal in the Sifrei: “All animal sacrifices are shalom for the world (כל הזבחים הם שלום בעולם).”  Consistent with the role of being facilitators of harmony, the Kohen blesses the nation every day right before the request of שים שלום.

Shabbos also shares this quality.  It is called “shalom” by the Zohar, it is identified by Chazal as a day of harmony between this world and the next, its angels are called מלאכי השלום, and we specifically switch in Shabbos ma’ariv the concluding beracha before the amidah to a request from Hashem to spread his סכת שלום upon us.  Perhaps for this reason we don’t say in Hebrew “Shabbos Tov,” as the Yiddish phrase “ah gutten Shabbos,” or the English “Good Shabbos” suggests.  Rather we bless one another with a “Shabbat Shalom!”

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