Personification of Peace

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Parshat Pinchas is the resolution and denouement of the conflict originating in Parshat Balak. When Bilaam’s prophecies were ineffective, Moav tried a new tactic to weaken Israel. The Moavite  women seduced the Jewish men and lured them into worshiping their god. This ploy was so effective that Zimri, head of the Tribe of Shimon, brazenly and publicly consorted with the princess of Moav. Hashem’s anger was aroused, and He brought a plague upon Israel. Pinchas, son of Elazar son of Aharon the Priest, rose up from among the people, took a spear and killed them both with a single lunge, and Hashem’s anger was appeased. What follows is Hashem’s response. Because Pinchas defused My anger, “I give him My covenant of peace. And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood...”

Was this a reward for Pinchas’ zealotry for Hashem? Why was the covenant of peace and of eternal priesthood an appropriate response to Pinchas’ action?

Ibn Ezra offers the simplest explanation. Rising up and killing a leader of the people would certainly evoke great anger within the nation. Given full rein, the people could actually kill Pinchas in retaliation. Hashem spoke these words to guarantee Pinchas protection and safety. In doing so, Hashem put His stamp of approval on Pinchas’ action. Inherently, although the action itself appeared violent, it was in its essence an act promoting peace, writes Rabbi Rivlin.

How can such a violent act be interpreted as inherently peaceful? Rabbi Shternbach explains that Pinchas’ motivation was purely for the honor of Heaven, even to the extent of risking his life. Bnei Yisroel had aroused Hashem’s anger; Pinchas’ action reinstated the peace between Hashem and Bnei Yisroel.

Any action can be either positive or negative depending on the circumstances and the motivation. The Brisker Rav z”l presents an excellent and somewhat humorous example to illustrate this point. A housewife and a cat are both chasing a mouse that has entered the premises. The cat is delighted that he will eventually catch the mouse and have dinner, while the housewife is disgusted with the mouse and just want to get rid of it. Similarly, Pinchas’ action was one generated by a desire to destroy this abominable behavior and restore God’s love toward Bnei Yisroel rather than by any personal agenda.

Even while Pinchas was outwardly violent, he was still praying that the innocent people of the Tribe of Shimon be spared the plague that Hashem brought upon them, notes Rabbi Nisson Alpert z”l. When one can create a balance between two conflicting emotions, one has achieved inner peace and wholeness. This was the blessing Hashem bestowed upon Pinchas, posits Rabbi Alpert.

Dorash Dovid, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, elaborates on this idea. Shalom, he explains, is not an absence of strife. If shalom were merely an absence of strife, why would it be necessary for Hashem to make peace in the heavens/oseh shalom bimromav where no strife exists. But the heavens are full of angels, each with its own unique mission which may appear contradictory to each other. Yet there is a balance and harmony in heaven. That is because each angel knows its own limitations and borders. Only when there is respect for borders can there be peace, as Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim, “Hasom gevuleich shalom,” which Rabbi Hofstedter interprets as, “When He sets your borders, there is peace.”

Nations also have differing characteristics and borders. For there to be peace, each nation must retain the integrity of its own borders, not only physically, but also with its character. Bnei Yisroel had limitations and “borders” on its behavior, limitations set by the Torah. Moav breached these borders by introducing lewd and immoral behavior into the ranks of Bnei Yisroel. Pinchas’ action mended that breach and reestablished the appropriate borders for Bnei Yisroel. By so doing, he brought peace back to the nation and to its relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Rewarding Pinchas with a covenant of peace was therefore an appropriate “measure for measure” response.

Society requires that there be boundaries, even among friends within a community. It was Shlomo Hamelech who instituted the laws of eruvei chatzerot for Shabbos. Prior to these laws, anyone could carry items whether it be a cake for a neighbor or a Sefer for joint study with a chevrusa from his private home through a public courtyard to his neighbor’s house. While this practice seems quite friendly, it could easily progress to an invasion of privacy. Shlomo Hamelech first banned people from transporting objects from one private domain to another. He then proclaimed that a group of people could agree to jointly “own” some common property to allow them to transport items between these homes. This firmly established the concept and limits of respect for private property while still allowing for friendly visits among neighbors, supporting continued shalom within a community. The Gemorrah states that Hashem praised Shlomo Hamelech for instituting these laws that promoted peaceful coexistence within a community.

The human being, continues Rabbi Hofstedter, is also composed of contradictory elements. In esoteric terms, using terminology from the Malbim and from much of Chazal, man [like all of creation] is composed of four elements, fire, water, earth and air/wind. [These can also be interpreted to refer to four different character traits, as many early psychologists claimed.] When these four are in balance within the human body, the person is healthy and productive. When any one overpowers the others, illness ensues. This inner equilibrium, writes Rabbi Hofstedter, was the covenant of peace Hashem bestowed on Pinchas. Therefore, Chazal tell us that traditionally Pinchas and the Prophet Eliyahu are one and the same, and our tradition tells us that Eliyahu never died. According to Rabbi Hofstedter, if all four elements were in constant peace with each other, it is reasonable that Pinchas never died.

But if one acts zealously, there is danger that zealotry and aggressive behavior will become a dominant attribute of one’s personality. To counter this possibility, writes Rabbi Sorotskin z”l, Hashem gave Pinchas the permanent covenant of priesthood so that the pursuit of peace would become the standard trait of his character.

In fact, if we acknowledge that Pinchas is Eliyahu and follow the life of Eliyahu as recounted in Melachim/Kings I,  we will note that indeed Eliyahu is still zealous for God’s honor and angry with Bnei Yisroel who seem to have abandoned thebris/covenant with Hashem symbolized by the bris milah/circumcision. It would seem that Pinchas/Eliyahu’s zealotry was becoming a negative force, writes Rabbi Frand citing Rabbi Mottel Katz z”l. Therefore, says the medrash, Hashem decreed that Eliyahu must attend every circumcision as witness that Bnei Yisroel continue to observe this covenant.

With this in mind, we are told that the sandek at a bris is accompanied by Eliyahu Hanavi all day. With the spirit of Eliyahu alongside him, a sandek’s brachah can be very powerful. If you attend a bris or see someone who has been a sandek that day, seek him out for a brachah.

Eliyahu will not only live forever, but He will also be the herald for the arrival of Moshiach notes the Targum Yonatan. How does the blessing of peace translate into being the herald of Moshiach’s arrival and the final redemption asks Otzrot Hatorah? The Netivot Shalom goes back to creation to begin our discussion of this question. Ever since Adam sinned by eating of the forbidden tree, good and evil became intertwined so that nothing and no one is perfect in this world. Therefore, there can be no perfect shalom. Shalom is achieved through shleimus, through wholeness and integrity, through purity, when the pure and the impure are no longer mixed together. Shalom is the ability to separate the good and keep it in its pristine state.

We get a taste of this perfect, pristine world on Shabbat. That is why we greet each other with peace, with “Shabbat shalom” on Shabbat. Even if one is entering an empty house, it is appropriate to greet it with shalom. Shabbat gives us a glimpse and taste of the world to come where all is peace and wholeness. The blessing of shalom is a blessing for rectification of the impurity brought about by the sin of eating of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. Pinchas/Eliyahu is now the personification of peace and is now divested of all the consequences of eating of that tree. Therefore, he is the perfect messenger to herald the coming of that perfect world of the Messianic era.

Eliyahu will create the peace in this world that is a prerequisite for the arrival of Moshiach, for Eliyahu will “turn back the hearts of fathers with their sons and the hearts of sons with their fathers, writes the Shvilei Pinchas.” This is the necessary antidote and rectification of the sin of baseless hatred that brought about the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdosh and the beginning of this long Diaspora. Therefore, Ezra fittingly established that Parshat Pinchas be read before the onset of the three weeks that commemorate the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh, to remind us to work on promoting friendship and peace within our midst and rectify the sin of sinat chinom/baseless hatred that is necessary for enabling Moshiach to come.

There is yet another universal element of shalom. Hashem created everything in existence for His glory, says the Misneh inPirkei Avot. Certainly, everything that we are permitted to use and enjoy can be elevated for His glory. However, even prohibited things can be elevated by acknowledging that we are avoiding them because Hashem so commanded, teaches theShvilei Pinchas. This is what is meant by ending Birkat Kohanim with Shalom.

Zimri rationalized that he would elevate this Moabite princess and bring her into the Nation of Israel. In fact, his underlying motive was his personal gratification. Pinchas saw through the mask, and realized that this act would not be constructive, but would indeed bring impurity into the ranks of Bnei Yisroel. By his swift action, Pinchas reestablished the purity of Bnei Yisroel and shalom between Hashem and Bnei Yisroel.

Can we be honest enough with ourselves to see the true motivation of our actions, or are we prone to deluding ourselves by ascribing higher motives than  seeking our own pleasure in what we do?

Eliyahu will bring all the elements of Bnei Yisroel back on the path to teshuvah and again unite all elements of creation in Hashem’s service, with appropriate boundaries that maintain the peace. Then the world will be a proper receptacle for the arrival of Moshiach, the Prince of Peace.