Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Pinchas
To dedicate this lesson
Hirsch At Your Table

Jealousness vs. Zealousness

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary


Rabbi Matityahu Clark

פינחס בן אליעזר בן אהרן הכהן השיב את חמתי מעל בני ישראל בקנאו את קנאתי בתוכם ולא כיליתי את בני ישראל בקנאתי. (Nm 25:11)
Balak and Bilam have failed in their plot to weaken and defeat the Children of Israel. However, their efforts and those of their countrymen to undermine the Jewish nation continue. They launch a major effort to entice the Jews sexually with prostitutes in order to enlist them in idolatry. As Moshe mounts a terrible punishment on these backsliders, Pinchas, Aharon’s grandson, shocks the entire camp by killing two of the most prominent perpetrators. His zealous defense of God’s moral standard successfully quenches God’s anger and ends the punishment and killing of these errant Jews.

Hirsch tries to explain the concepts inherent in the oft-repeated word קנאה, discussing how through קנאה Pinchas was able to stop the punishment that God had brought upon the nation of Israel. He rejects the accepted translation of that word that usually refers to a type of extreme jealousy and claims that it refers to "protecting rights". Pinchas was standing up for God, whose rights regarding His people had been violated by these Jewish perverts who had willingly involved themselves in sex-related idolatry.

The words קנאו/קנאתי are from the root ק-נ-א which means "to protect ownership." A sister cognate of this root is ק-נ-ה which means "to acquire by legal means."

Hirsch’s deep interest in every Hebrew word in Tanach is a well-established part of his commentary. His close analysis of the word בקנאו adds a significant element to his understanding of Pinchas and his involvement in this affair. He sees that the word בקנאו, which should indicate an intensive act, lacks a דגש, a dot, in the letter נון which would be required in the normal פיעל form. He concludes that the word therefore is a combination of the conjugation of both קל/simple active and פיעל/intensive active forms.

What this signifies is that Pinchas combined a strong external demand in asserting rights (פיעל) with the more inner feeling that one must have for someone else when demanding those rights (קל). His act was not only a legal or public effort but a result of a deep feeling and belief that the combination of illicit sexual relationships and idolatry that was going on was harming God and His people.

God credits Pinchas with saving the Jewish people with this daring act. Otherwise God’s anger/חמתי would have caused Him to destroy/כיליתי, the entire nation. When God’s rights are challenged, someone from among His people must arise to correct the situation. If there is no one who will do it, and God Himself must assert His rights, then the people have lost God. If Israel "loses" God, it ceases to exist, since its very being is dependent on its relationship to God. Pinchas was the one to demand God’s rights, thereby saving the entire nation.

The word חמתי is from the root ח-מ-ם which means "to project extreme heat." It also connotes extreme anger that affects body and soul. The word כיליתי is from the root כ-ל-ה "to strive to attain completion." In this verse it refers to complete destruction.

Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
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