Thursday, July 5, 2018

In Search Of Motive

Rabbi Zweig

“Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohein…”(25:11)

Although Pinchas’ genealogy was mentioned at the end of last week’s parsha, the Torah repeats the fact that he was a descendant of Aharon the Kohein. Rashi explains that after Pinchas had killed Zimri ben Salu, a prince from the tribe of Shimon, Bnei Yisroel scorned him, accusing him of murder. They protested that Pinchas, the grandson of Yisro (Pinchas’ father married Yisro’s daughter) who fattened livestock for idol worshipping purposes, had no right to wantonly kill a prince of Israel. Regarding this accusation, the Torah responds that on the contrary, Pinchas’ zealous act saved Bnei Yisroel, and although he was descended from an idol worshipper on his mother’s side, he descended on his father’s side from Aharon Hakohein, an exemplary lover and pursuer of harmony[1]. What does the fact that Pinchas descended from idol worshippers have to do with his actions, and if, in fact, his actions were impacted by his genealogy, how were they counteracted by the fact that he descended from Aharon Hakohein?

The rationale for Bnei Yisroel’s criticism of Pinchas is based upon what is known as the “reformed smoker syndrome”; very often, the most rabid anti-smoker is a reformed smoker. In an attempt to rid himself of some negative habit or trait, a person may react very negatively to others who exhibit the same trait. This person’s reaction is fueled by the fear that seeing others exhibiting the same negative trait which he once exhibited, will rekindle his own connection to it.

In order to kill Zimri without due process, Pinchas had to invoke the law known as “kana’im pogim bo” – “the zealous may kill him”. This law allows for a person who witnesses Hashem’s name being desecrated by certain public transgressions to kill the perpetrator without due process[2]. Invoking this law requires that a person’s motivations be completely for the sake of heaven. If a person has any bias or proclivity which spurs his action, it is considered murder.

The Talmud states that the most intimate form of idol worship is cohabiting with a gentile, the transgression for which Pinchas killed Zimri[3]. Since Pinchas was connected to idol worship through his grandfather, Bnei Yisroel maintained that it was this sensitivity which brought on his outrage and prompted him to kill Zimri. However, the Torah is attesting to the fact that Pinchas’ motives were pure; he had within him the outstanding trait of Aharon Hakohein, “oheiv verodeif shalom” – “lover and pursuer of harmony”. True harmony can only be achieved by a person who has no agenda of his own, but sees everything from the other person’s perspective. Similarly, Pinchas’ action was not prompted by his own need to eradicate negative feelings within himself, rather his complete, unabashed sensitivity to the desecration of Hashem’s honor.

1.Rashi 25:11
2.Sanhedrin 81b
3.ibid 82a