The Reward

In the aftermath of the debacle that had unfolded in the camp, Pinchas killed the lecherous Zimri, and was rewarded by Divine decree:

And God spoke to Moshe, saying: "Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, has turned My wrath away from the Children of Israel, in that he was very jealous for My sake among them, so that I did not consume the Children of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say: Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendents after him, the covenant of everlasting kehuna; because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the Children of Israel." (Bamidbar 25:10- 13)

Had it not been for the action of Pinchas, the Jews might well have been annihilated. Pinchas zealously restored order to the camp. God therefore rewards Pinchas with a covenant of peace. Pinchas and his descendents will enjoy the status of Kohen, as payment for his zeal.

It is unclear if these are two separate rewards, or if they are in fact one and the same. Indeed, a careful reading of the verses indicates that two separate rewards are enumerated. One is the covenant of peace and the other is eternal kehuna (priesthood).

The things with which God rewards Pinchas are far from random. When we consider that Pinchas' actions may have been looked upon askance by many in the camp, that his method for restoring harmony in the camp was to kill another Jew, we may conclude that peace was the one thing Pinchas desperately needed. It may be safe to assume that there were many people who would have taken umbrage at Pinchas' zeal, and still others who would seek to further the cycle of violence by taking revenge for the murder of Zimri.1 God gives Pinchas a covenant of peace; He endorses Pinchas and the extreme measures Pinchas took to restore peace in the camp, while at the same time effectively protecting Pinchas from his detractors.2 These practical and specific goals might be seen as quite separate from the reward of kehuna described in the next verse.

On the other hand, it is not difficult to support the opposite claim, that the covenant of peace and kehuna are, in fact, one and the same. "Peace" is so closely intertwined with the kehuna that the equation is almost inescapable: When the kohanim bless the people, it is specifically a blessing of peace that they transmit, and this blessing is recited specifically within the context of the blessing of peace at the conclusion of the amida.3 The equation of kehuna and peace goes all the way back to the first kohen, the quintessential kohen. In the words of Hillel:

Hillel used to say: Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them close to Torah. (Avot 1:12)

Aharon was the perfect example of the man of peace; he uncomplainingly played the role of his younger brother's second, he made peace with himself and with God even when challenged by personal loss. When the people press Aharon to make for them a Golden Calf he complies, effectively sacrificing truth for the sake of peace. Pinchas's road is very different: while both Aharon and Pinchas pursue peace, they take divergent paths: When the plague of peor spreads like a cancer in the Israelite camp, and culminates in an inappropriate public display of sexuality, Pinchas leaps into action and sacrifices peace for the sake of truth. While Aharon's essence was peace, Pinchas killed for the sake of peace - certainly a circuitous route of achieving peace. Pinchas surely needed the covenant of peace to protect him, but even more so, he needed the covenant of peace to realign him with the role of kohen, to reconnect with that essential nature that was passed down from his grandfather Aharon.


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The commentaries are divided regarding the meaning and significance of the covenant of eternal kehuna. Rashi teaches that Pinchas was not originally a kohen, and was only anointed in the aftermath of the Zimri affair. This approach is found in rabbinic literature, yet is somewhat problematic: Being that Pinchas' father and grandfather were kohanim, why should Pinchas have been initially excluded from kehuna? According to this approach, Pinchas was an anomaly, the victim of a strange clause: Aharon was made a kohen,4 his son Elazar was made a kohen,5 and any male child subsequently born to this family line would automatically be born a kohen. However, Pinchas "suffered" from having already been born; he was therefore not among those specifically anointed, nor was he among "those who would subsequently be born." 6 Rashi explains that Pinchas is here granted kehuna by Divine directive:

A covenant of eternal kehuna: Although the kehuna had already been given to Aharon's descendants, it was given solely to Aharon and his sons who were annointed with him, and to their generations who would be born after their anointment. Pinchas, however, who was born before, and was not annointed, was not included in the kehuna until here. Similarly, we learned in Zevachim (101b), "Pinchas was not rendered a kohen until he killed Zimri." (Rashi Bamidbar 25:13)

Other commentaries disagree: Pinchas was already a kohen, was always a kohen along with his father and grandfather and uncles and cousins. The meaning of the verse is that the covenant that was forged granted him and his descendents the position of Kohen Gadol. 7

The Riva8 has a different approach. Jewish law states that a Kohen who kills is invalid to serve; therefore, when Pinchas killed Zimri and Kosbi, he should have been disqualified as a kohen. Only divine intervention in the form of a promise of everlasting kehuna allowed him to remain a kohen.9 In fact, the text supports this approach: When he was awarded the kehuna, the Torah describes Pinchas' actions as bringing about atonement:

... and it shall be for him, and for his descendents after him, the covenant of everlasting kehuna; because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the Children of Israel. (Bamidbar 25:13)

Taking the wider view, we realize that the role of the kohen is to bring about atonement for the People of Israel. Most kohanim achieve this by bringing offerings. Pinchas brought an unorthodox offering - he killed Zimri. Instead of being seen as an outrage, God accepted this offering, and spared the People.10

Aharon was elevated to the position of Kohen Gadol when he attempted to maintain peace by sacrificing truth. In essence, every kohen who brought about atonement for the People through offerings was involved in a similar gesture: Truth is sacrificed for the sake of atonement, for the sake of peace. In a world of absolute truth, every sin should be followed by punishment; the very idea that God could choose to accept a sacrifice for repentant man is antithetical to the concept of truth. Nonetheless, this is one of the ruling principles with which God created and continues to sustain the universe. God chooses peace over truth.11 Man, with his myriad sins great and small, would not survive without God's enormous capacity for forgiveness, without God's willingness to put aside absolute truth. The price to be paid for human existence is just this: truth is trampled upon.

Pinchas embraced truth. He would not, could not ignore the outrage transpiring in the camp. He therefore acted with violence, and upset the balance, broke the peace. The "festival of free love" spearheaded by Zimri was shattered with stark truth - the truth of Torah. Those embracing peor, with its scatological practices12 and pantheistic theology, were involved in idolatry. Zimri and Kosbi hoped to bring a message of false peace and universal love - love of nature and natural love; Pinchas showed them and all of the congregation that this was not service of God through nature, but avoda zara, foreign theology. Zimri and Kozbi, who may have viewed their carnal performance as a "natural" act, part and parcel of the worldview of worship of peor, were in fact guilty of a terrible outrage, a transgression against the boundaries of holiness and purity which are dictated by belief in One God and the Torah's path to achieve kedusha.

Pinchas embraced truth and sacrificed peace; God accepted this sacrifice and stopped the plague. Pinchas averted the annihilation of the Jewish People, and in doing so, showed that that he was truly a son of Aharon, a true kohen.



1. See comments of Hizkuni, Daat Zekanim Baale Tosfot and Rabbenu Bachaya Bamidbar 25:12.

2. Rashi Bamidbar 25:11, notes that many thought that Pinchas has acted inappropriately, and his behavior was influenced from pagan influences. Verse 11: Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the kohein: Because the tribes disparaged him, [saying] 'Have you seen that son of "Puti," whose mother's father fattened calves for idol worship, and who murdered the chieftain of a tribe of Israel?' Therefore, Scripture traces his lineage to Aharon.

3. The blessing of Sim Shalom - give peace.

4. Shmot 28:1: And take to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, that he may minister to me in the priest's office, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons.

5. See Rabbi M Kasher, Torah Shelemah volume 20, Shmot chapter 28, section 12.

6. Shmot 28:43 And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in to the Tent of Meeting, or when they come near to the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die; it shall be a statute forever to him and his seed after him.

7. Ibn Ezra Bamidbar 28:12.

8. Riva Bamidbar 25:12, citing Rav Moshe MiCoucy, known as the Smag (Sefer Mitzvot Gedolot).

9. The Zohar makes a similar suggestion. I have seen it suggested that in fact God knew that Pinchas would kill Zimri and therefore suffer disqualification, Pinchas' kehuna was purposely held in abeyance until after he killed Zimri in order to avoid this problem: at the moment he killed Zimri, Pinchas was not a Kohen. He became a kohen only subsequently. Zohar Volume 3 214a: "Now it is a rule that a priest who kills a human being becomes disqualified for the priesthood, and therefore by rights Pinchas should have been disqualified. But because he was jealous for the Holy One, blessed be He, the priesthood was assigned to him and to his descendants in perpetuity."

10. It is interesting that after the Golden Calf, the tribe of Levi is distinguished from the mainstream when they answer Moshe's call "Whoever is with God - join me" )Shmot 32:26). There, too, an act of violence catapults the Tribe of Levi into their special status.

11. See Yerushami Makot 7a, Yalkut Shimoni Yehchezkel 358.

12. See Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 60b, 64a: "Rav Yehudah said in Rab's name: A gentile woman once fell sick. She vowed, 'If I recover, I will go and serve every idol in the world.' She recovered, and proceeded to serve all idols. On reaching Peor, she asked its priests, 'How is this worshipped?' They replied, 'People eat beets, drink strong drink, and then uncover themselves before it.' She replied, 'I would rather fall sick again than serve an idol in such a manner.' But you, O House of Israel, were not so [as it is written, Slay ye every one his men) that were joined unto Baal Peor: you were attached to it like an air-tight lid. Whereas, 'While you that did cleave unto the Lord your God,' implies merely like two dates sticking to each other. In a Baraitha it has been taught: that were joined unto Baal Peor: [loosely] like a bracelet on the hands of a woman; whereas 'While you that did cleave unto the Lord your God' indicates that they were firmly attached. Our Rabbis taught: Sabta, a townsman of Avlas, once hired an ass to a gentile woman. When she came to Peor, she said to him, 'Wait till I enter and come out again.' On her issuing, he said to her, 'Now do you wait for me too until I go in and come out again.' 'But,' said she, 'are you not a Jew?' He replied, 'What does it concern you?' He then entered, uncovered himself before it, and wiped himself on the idol's nose, whilst the acolytes praised him, saying, 'No man has ever served this idol thus.' He that uncovers himself before Baal Peor thereby serves it, even if his intention was to degrade it. He who casts a stone at Merculis thereby serves it, even if his intention was to bruise it.