Pinchas and Kayin
The end of Parshas Balak describes how Bilam managed to lure some of klal Yisrael into inappropriate relationships with Moabite women and ultimately into idolatry. One man, Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, brazenly conducted a sexual liaison with Kazbi, a Moabite princess. To the dismay of many of the communal leaders, Pinchas, a grandson of Aharon, took a spear and executed both of the culprits. The sidrah opens with the conclusion of this story, in which Pinchas is praised for his zeal, and he is promised that he and his descendants will be kohanim for all time:
It shall be for him and his seed after him a covenant of everlasting priesthood, for he was zealous for his God and he made atonement for the Children of Yisrael. (Bemidbar 25:13)
And it shall be for him - this covenant. A covenant of everlasting priesthood - for even though the priesthood was already given to the seed of Aharon, it was only given to Aharon and his sons who were anointed with him and their descendants who would be born after their anointing. However, Pinchas, who was born before this, was not anointed and was not included among the kohanim until now. As it is taught in Zevachim (101b), Pinchas was not made a kohen until after he killed Zimri. (Rashi loc. cit.)
This is most interesting. Why was Pinchas not made a kohen until now? Although Rashi provides a pragmatic reason, what lies behind this? Let us begin with an important quote from the Zohar:
Come and see! Any kohen who kills someone is forever invalidated from the kehunah [priesthood], for this act certainly abrogates his spiritual level. As for Pinchas [after he killed Zimri and Kazbi] according to the law he was excluded from the kehunah forevermore. And because he was zealous for God, He needed to give to him a brand-new kehunah, for him and his descendants after him, for all generations. (Zohar HaKadosh 3:214a)
This text cannot mean that Pinchas received the kehunah for killing Zimri. If so, it would not have been a reward. Rather, he would have retained it, despite the fact that he should have lost it. Instead, let us propose a mystical explanation.
The Arizal notes that Pinchas found his spiritual roots in Kayin, the son of Adam and Chavah, who killed his brother, Hevel. As such, Pinchas had the murderous tendencies of Kayin deep within him and thus was intrinsically unsuitable for membership of the kehunah. The fault within his personality would have to be expunged before he could receive the gift of kehunah. This was achieved by killing Zimri.
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This obviously needs much explanation. Let us briefly consider the personality of Kayin. The name Kayin finds its root in the word kinyan (acquisition). Indeed, when he was born, the Torah records:
She conceived and gave birth to Kayin, and she said, "I have acquired a man from God." (Bereishis 4:1)
The name of a person always indicates his true nature. In this case, we discover that Kayin was a man who saw himself as significant - an entity of substance, a person who himself was an "acquisition." This apparently small fault was the cause of all of the evil he perpetrated, for he saw himself as important, even to the extent that he placed himself above God. Apart from murdering his brother:
Our Sages tell us:
The twin of Hevel was the fairest of women, and Kayin desired her in his heart. He said, "I'll kill Hevel, my brother, and take his twin from him..." (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer 21)
There are also rabbinical traditions that Kayin's reverence for himself led to idolatry and denial of God's supervision of the world. The arrogance and self-importance which so characterized Kayin led to the worst sins, for we have seen that he murdered and committed sexual immorality and idolatry.
But, as always, every bad trait has a counterpart which is productive. The very same motivation which led Kayin to do all of these terrible sins can also lead to a profound appreciation of human worth. The chronicler describes King Yehoshofat as follows:
His heart was lifted up in the ways of God... (Divrei HaYamim II 17:6)
While the king indeed saw himself as a significant, valuable person, he directed this feeling toward Divine service. Chazal mention:
Every individual must say, "Because of me, the world was created." (Sanhedrin 38a)
The ability to say this, and to genuinely feel it to be true, stems from the good side of Kayin's character trait. We must consider ourselves important and worthy and that our contribution to the world is of paramount value. This explains the real intention behind Chavah's exclamation when Kayin was born: "I have acquired a man from God." He was to be a man of self-worth, a person who knew his own value. But this was to be utilized for God and not in self-aggrandizement. Regrettably, it was Kayin himself who misused his powers, becoming instead an egocentric sinner.
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As we have mentioned, Pinchas was endowed with the same spiritual root as Kayin. It was thus his task to utilize Kayin's character trait, not as his ancestor had done, but productively and within the Torah framework. Pinchas was most successful at this task. We have seen that he was described as "zealous for his God" when he killed Zimri and Kazbi. He was not actually obliged to perform this execution, but was entitled to do so under a complex and misunderstood law. Pinchas was a man of such spiritual sensitivity that he could not bear to witness Zimri's flagrant sin and so acted to restore the honor of God. This was the moment at which he demonstrated that he had overcome his "Kayin" tendency and redirected it to good purposes.
When Pinchas felt unable to tolerate the sin of Zimri and Kazbi, it was his personality expressing itself. Indeed, no other member of the nation was motivated to act against them to punish their sin. But as Pinchas felt a great degree of self-worth, he was personally affronted by their actions. He directed these feelings into zeal for God and hence acted alone to punish them. He, as did Yehoshofat, "lifted his heart in the ways of God."
It is significant that Pinchas did not act in response to a command from God, but took his own initiative. This was a further indication that his zeal was genuine and God-oriented, for no one in klal Yisrael, nor even God himself, could have obliged him to act. When he did so, he demonstrated a deep personal commitment to God's honor and image in the world.
Through his actions, Pinchas rectified the damage done by those of the nation who sinned with the Moabite women. They had commited immoral acts with those women and worshipped Ba'al Pe'or, the vile deity of Mo'av. Additionally, they so lowered themselves by these foul acts that they diminished their human status; this is akin to murder. When Pinchas stepped forward to stem the tide of sin he:
...turned back My anger from upon the Children of Yisrael by being zealous on My behalf among them, so I did not destroy the Children of Yisrael with My zealotry. (Bemidbar 25:11)
By so doing, Pinchas rectified Kayin's residual defect which lay deep within him. Kayin's ego prompted him to commit idolatry, murder, and sexual immorality. Pinchas, in contrast, used the very same trait to undo the damage caused by these three cardinal sins. This done, Pinchas could now receive the gift of everlasting kehunah, which had been denied him thus far.