A Covenant of Peace

Our Parsha opens with Hashem’s promise of His Covenant of Peace to Pinchas (Numbers 25, 10-12): “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the Kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me….Therefore, say, “I hereby give him My covenant of peace.”

Why was Pinchas promised a Covenant of Peace? What significance and meaning did this have? At the conclusion of the previous Parsha, Am Yisrael was attracted to the Moabite young women and to the idolatry of Pe’or. A plague ensued, and Zimri Ben Salou had relations with a Midianite woman. And then, demonstrating leadership and responsibility, Pinchas killed Zimri and the Midianite woman.

At the beginning of our Parsha, Hashem clearly states that thanks to the actions of Pinchas, He did not destroy Am Yisrael. And then He promises (ibid 25, 12): Therefore, say, “I hereby give him My covenant of peace.”

This promise is most surprising and comes unexpectedly. At first glance, there seems to be no connection between a “Covenant of Peace” and the actions of Pinchas. Indeed, Rashi expounds that there is no relation between Pinchas’s actions and this Covenant.

However, there is a connection to the results his actions precipitated: [I  give to him] My Covenant – Peace. This means: I give him my covenant that it should be to him as a covenant of peace; just like a man who shows gratitude and friendliness to one who has done him a kindness. So here, too, the Holy One, blessed be He, expressed to him His peaceful feelings towards him.  Pinchas did a “favor”, so to speak, for Hashem. And as a reward for his “Kiddush Hashem’, he was granted the Covenant of Peace. It seems the meaning of all this is that Pinchas introduced “Kiddush Hashem” to the world, and was subsequently rewarded. And so explained the Alsheich: “In recognition of publicizing and making holy the name of Hashem in the world.”

The Chizkuni and the Eben Ezra explain that there exists a direct link between the actions of Pinchas and the reward he received. There was a real concern that Zimri’s next of kin may harm Pinchas. By granting him a Covenant of Peace, Hashem sent a message to Pinchas that he has nothing to fear. Hashem would guard him and ensure his well-being.

My revered Rabbi and teacher, HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, once explained that Pinchas reflected the image of a Kohen, completely dedicated to promoting peace. This image is described in the prophecy of Malachi (2, 5) as one who “My covenant was with him, life and peace, and I gave them to him [with] fear; and he feared Me, and because of My Name, he was over-awed.” Notwithstanding the unique personality of Pinchas, he was able to rise up and fight at times of great crisis.

Yet, while his reaction was justified, there remained some concern: that in the aftermath of such action, his sensitivity may be impaired (This concern appears in the words of Ramban, Deuteronomy 23, 10). Therefore, Hashem guaranteed: “I hereby give him My covenant of peace.” Pinchas will revert to his previous spiritual level, unblemished by his act of killing.

We can further add that the image of a Kohen is an image of peace. He, therefore, is charged with blessing Am Yisrael with peace: “May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Apparently, Pinchas emulated and was inspired by his father, Aharon the High Priest, who was famed for “loving peace and pursuing peace”(Chapters of the Fathers, 1).

In spite of this, even a man of peace must sometimes take up arms and fight. A man of peace is also aware that one who has mercy upon terrorists acts in criminal fashion, and undermines peace in the world. The concern for peace at times mandates going to war.

Our Sages in Tractate Kiddushin (66:) alluded to this, and wrote that a blemished Kohen is disqualified from his holy work, since he must be “shalem” (complete). This is what we learned from Pinchas: , “I hereby give him My covenant of peace.” (Our Sages read the word “shalem”, since the letter “vav” in the word “shalom” is shortened).

Pinchas represents perfection, and as a man of peace, knows how to make love peace. He understands that the path to peace requires acting in order to eradicate evil from the world.

May we all be worthy of the blessing for peace: “May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”