Sfas Emes blog
God gave the priesthood to Aharon and his progeny as a gift, not as an earned reward as the pasuk states, “עֲבֹודַת מַתָּנָה אֶתֵּן אֶת כְּהוּנַתְכֶם/The service is a gift that I have given with your priesthood.” (Bamidbar 18:7) Yet the first Midrash on the parsha says that Pinchas earned the priesthood. How can he have earned it if the Torah says explicitly that it was a gift? The Sfas Emes says that there is no contradiction. The Midrash is teaching us that it is possible to earn a gift. Where do we find the concept of earning a gift?
First we need to understand that a gift represents love and kindness. Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi writes in his seminal work Tanya that there is a level of love for God which cannot be reached directly. Rather by working on developing awe of God, achieving the highest level we possibly can, each of us according to our individual potential, we are granted a commensurate level of love for God. This level of love is a gift that is granted involving no prior direct effort or preparation. The terms awe and love as used by the author of Tanya and by the Sfas Emes imply serving God and coming close to Him respectively. We cannot work to experience God directly. However, we can strive to serve Him. As a reward, He allows us to experience closeness to Him. Rav Shneur Zalman is teaching us that God’s love – the experience of closeness – is a gift that can be earned.
The priesthood as well, represents love and kindness. Indeed, the Zohar explains that the priesthood is a channel for drawing God’s lovingkindness into the world. God granted the priesthood as a gift. This represents God’s love. The priests, too, whose work in the Beis HaMikdash brings us closer to God and is done on our behalf, represent love and kindness.
In this sense, Pinchas, too, was granted the priesthood, an aspect of love and kindness, of closeness to God, as a gift for acting zealously on behalf of the nation, essentially for striving to serve God to the utmost of his ability. He earned the gift.
The reason Pinchas merited the priesthood is thus clear, but why did his progeny merit it through his act? The Sfas Emes explains Pinchas merited for his progeny as well because he acted on behalf of and from within the nation. His act atoned for the nation and saved their progeny. As a reward he merited the priesthood for his progeny.
The Sfas Emes expounds on this concept. The key to Pinchas’s act of vengeance was not the act itself. Rather, the key was that Pinchas acted solely on behalf and for the benefit of the nation. He had no personal motives. He was not hero-motivated. For this reason the pasuk describes his act as, “... בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת-קִנְאָתִי בְּתוֹכָם .../… by acting zealously among them …” (Bamidbar 25:11) “Among them” seems an unnecessary addition to this description. The Sfas Emes explains that this teaches us two things. Firstly, Pinchas acted on behalf of the nation. Secondly, the act of zealousness needed to be done by an ordinary member of the nation, someone with no rank, someone who rose up from amongst the nation. Pinchas acted on behalf of and as a representative of the nation. This is why Pinchas was not granted priesthood earlier. Only one of the rank and file of the nation with no special status could have acted as he acted. This is also why Moshe Rabbeinu could not have done what Pinchas did. To atone for the nation’s sin, a member of the nation had to act.
For this reason as well, Pinchas is related back to his grandfather Aharon in the beginning of the parsha. Usually the first time a person is mentioned in the Torah, he is related back one generation. Pinchas is related back two generations and this is not even the first mention of him. Pinchas was already mentioned in parshas Balak. Why then, does the Torah relate him back two generations to Aharon HaCohen? Chazal tell us that Aharon loved peace. Everything he did was in the name of the entire nation of Israel. The Torah relates Pinchas back to Aharon to teach us that Pinchas acted in the name of the entire nation as well.
The concept of earning a gift was introduced by AvrahamAvinu. The Midrash tells us that Shem the son of Noach received the priesthood. The Midrash makes it clear that he was not chosen to receive the priesthood as a reward. When Shem died, Avraham Avinu received the priesthood. The Midrash states clearly that he was chosen because of his righteousness. In another Midrash we find that Shem called Yerushalayim, Shalem/Complete whereas Avraham Avinu called it Yir’a/Awe. What is the significance of these different names and what is their connection with Shem and Avraham Avinu?
Shalem – Shem’s name for Yerushalayim – means complete. It is also related to the Hebrew word for peace – shalom. The Sfas Emes explains that receiving an undeserved gift is an aspect of peace. God, for example, gives life to everything as an act of unearned kindness. The Zohar calls this aspect of God, peace. We find this concept relating to the Creation. Chazal teach us that Shabbos is an unearned gift that God bestowed on the Creation. Shabbos as the culmination of the Creation was the point at which the Creation was complete. A system which is complete is at peace with itself. Each part of the system is doing its unique job but striving towards the common goal of the entire system. Each part of the Creation, by doing its unique job, is bringing the entire Creation closer to God. This is why on Shabbos we say that God spreads His canopy of peace upon us. Peace and Shabbos are very closely connected. We see clearly, that God bestowed the unearned gift of Shabbos upon the Creation and the Zohar calls Shabbos, peace. Shem called Yerushalayim Shalem because he himself was granted the priesthood unearned through God’s kindness.
Avraham Avinu, on the other hand, developed, cultivated and perfected his strength to achieve anything God asked of him. He passed the ultimate test when he went to sacrifice his son Yitzchak. As a result he was granted the highest level of love of God.
First, with Shem, God granted closeness to Himself through pure lovingkindness. This is why Shem called the city Shalem. Avraham Avinu taught us that we can achieve closeness to God through service to God; we are able to merit the gift. This is the reason Avraham Avinu called the city Yir’a. By striving to be in awe of God we can merit the gift of closeness to Him. God connected the two and called the city Yerushalayim. Yerushalayim represents each person’s ability to reach a high level of love and completeness, a closeness to God, by serving Him to deserve the gift.
We find this concept in the relationship between Shabbos and the days of the week. The Tikunei HaZohar states that during the six days of the week we serve God with awe. On Shabbos we serve God with love. The Sfas Emes teaches us that one follows the other. The way we serve God on Shabbos depends on how we serve God during the six days of the preceding week. If we serve God with awe during the week, we are granted the gift of love – closeness – on Shabbos.
The concept of completeness coinciding with closeness to God is brought out by a Gemara in Maseches Kidushin. The Gemara states that a priest who is physically disfigured may not serve as a priest. The Gemara learns this from the pasuk describing Pinchas’s reward as the covenant of peace. As we’ve said, shalom/peace has the same root as shalem/complete. Therefore, a priest who is disfigured is physically incomplete and may not serve. A pasuk in Yeshaya, though, implies that God dwells specifically with “broken vessels”, “אֶשְׁכּוֹן וְאֶת־דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל־רוּח/I will dwell with the despondent and lowly of spirit.” (Yeshaya 57:15) How does this pasuk reconcile with the law prohibiting a physically disfigured priest from serving in the Temple? The Zohar answers that physical disfigurement disqualifies a priest because it infers a spiritual blemish. A righteous person, however, whose heart is broken in his service to God is not a disfigurement. The Zohar says that he is God’s pride.
We cultivate a sense of awe, then, by contemplating God’s completeness and our own lowliness. This is what the Zohar refers to as “broken vessels.” When we do this to the best of our ability, God grants us a degree of closeness to Him which is impossible to reach directly and can only be described as a gift. It is what we’ve described earlier as the highest level of love for God.
Bamidbar R. 21:1
Tanya, Igeres HaKodesh 6, 18
 Zohar 3:48b
 Also, see last week’s parsha, “ויקם מתוך העדה/[Pinchas] arose from the midst of the congregation.”
Breishis R. 4:8
Breishis R. 56:10
Zohar Chadash Shir HaShirim in Midrash haNe’elam 72c
Birchos Kri’as Shema Arvis; Zohar 1:48a, also see Bamidbar R. 21:1
Tikunei Zohar 36:78a
ב"ה פינחס בקיצור ראשי דברים
במדרש בדין שיטול שכרו. כי הי' כהן מקודם ג"כ. אך כי כהן בחי' אהבה וחסד. ונודע כי ע"י יראה השי"ת נותן אהבה כמ"ש בתניא ע"פ עבודת מתנה אתן כו' כהונתכם כו'. לזאת כהונה לזרעו של אהרן לדורות. וזה מתנה. אבל פינחס זכה ג"כ בדין אל הכהונה וג"כ לדורות ע"י שכיפר על בנ"י לכלל ישראל עי"ז השכר ג"כ על לדורות. וכ' בקנאו כו' בתוכם. והפי' שלא יצא מכללותם ח"ו ע"י הקנאה והכעס. רק אדרבה העיד הכתוב עליו שלא עשה הדבר כדי לזכות למדריגה וכדומה. רק הכניס המעשה בכלל ישראל ועשה רק להראות שאף שחטאו בנ"י עכ"ז יש בהם מי שינקום. ובזה שכך חמת המלך. ומה"ט לא עשאו משה רבינו ע"ה. כי הי' צריך להיות ע"י איש פשוט תוך כלל ישראל. ומה"ט י"ל שלא הי' נמשח מקודם. כמ"ש רש"י ז"ל שכיון שלא נמשח הי' צריך למתנה זו. והיא גופא קשה למה לא נמשח. רק כנ"ל להיות ע"י איש פשוט שאינו כהן וגם שיזכה כהונתו עפ"י הדין ג"כ כנ"ל [ועל ידי שמתוך אהבה עשה דין בחוטאים עירב וחיבר החסד עם הדין ועי"ז בא לבחי' כהן וחסד גם עפ"י הדין כנ"ל].
ובמד' כי הכהונה הי' עתיד להיות משם ואח"כ ניתן לאברהם אע"ה. עוד שם כי שם קרא לירושלים שלם ואברהם יראה כמ"ש ויקרא כו' המקום כו' ה' יראה כו' ע"ש פ' לך לך. כי שם לא זכה ע"י מעשיו רק שהי' נבחר לכהונה. וזה בחי' שלום שהקב"ה שמו שלם שהוא שלימות הכל. והכלל כי הנקודה ממנו ית' שמחי' כל נק' שלום. ולכך כלי מחזיק ברכה הוא להיות בנקודה זו והיא נק' שבת ולכך ויברך כו' כי מחזיק ברכה כנ"ל. וזה פורס סוכת שלום כי בשבת יש הארה מהשי"ת במתנה בלי עבודה כמ"ש מתנה גנוזה כו'. ואברהם אע"ה חידש זה לזכות ע"י עבודה וז"ש שנק' יראה שע"י היראה יזכה אדם לבחי' אהבה הבא במתנה כנ"ל. [וזה עצמו הי' בעקידה שהי' בחי' גבורה כמ"ש בזוה"ק וזה הי' נסיון אחרון שאז נתקן בשלימות לבחי' אהבה שהיא מדתו]. ופעל כן שיזכה כל אדם לבחי' אהבה ושלם ע"י היראה כנ"ל וזה ירושלים. וכן בכל ש"ק שזוכין ע"י ימי העבודה לבחי' שבת שהוא אהבה ומתנה מהשי"ת כנ"ל. [וזה יראה יראה כשם שבא לראות כך זוכה להראות שהוא ההתגלות כנ"ל. איני זוכר אם אמרתי כ"ז].
וכן פינחס זכה ע"י הקנאה לבחי' אהבה וחסד כנ"ל. ובגמ' שלום כשהוא שלם בלי מום. בזוה"ק אמור הקשה על שבעל מום פסול והלא כתיב אשכון את דכא שהקב"ה בוחר במאנין תבירין. אך מי שלבו נשבר באמת חל עליו גיאותא דקוב"ה כו' והוא הביטול ונקודה הנ"ל הנק' שלום כנ"ל. וברש"י שהשבטים זלזלו על פינחס הרג נשיא שבט כו'. וח"ו שאמרו שלא טוב עשה. אבל בודאי הבינו כי איש יחיד לא יוכל לעשות זה. ובאמת עשה פינחס זה בשם כל ישראל כמ"ש בתוכם כנ"ל. וזה שהכתוב יחסו אחר אהרן שמדתו אוהב שלום וכל מעשיו בשם כל ישראל שהיה מיוחד לעבודת כל בנ"י כנ"ל: