Beit Midrash

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

The Covenant with Pinchas

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


Rabbi Matityahu Clark

לכן אמור הנני נותן לו את בריתי שלום. (Nm 25:12)
God tells Moshe that he should publicize among the people that God’s reward for the brave action that Pinchas did was to give him God’s covenant of peace.

Pinchas was the son of Eliezer, and the grandson of Aharon HaKohen. He had already been born when Moshe and Aharon appeared before Pharaoh in Egypt. When subsequently Aharon and his sons were designated as Kohanim, Pinchas was not included. He is now being chosen as a functioning Kohen by virtue of his action in the Zimri episode. His actions can be compared with those of the Levites in the Golden Calf incident. Just as the Levites "earned" their special status by defending God’s honor, so did Pinchas earn his status by his "Kohanic" action of atoning for Israel’s sins in dispatching Zimri.

Hirsch tries to understand the significance of the phrase בריתי שלום. He first looks to the word בריתי/my covenant, and asks why the word בריתי has a pronominal suffix (תי). There is a similar construct in Lv 26:42 וזכרתי את בריתי יעקוב ואף את בריתי יצחק ואף את בריתי אברהם אזכור והארץ אזכור. In both of these cases there is also no preposition, i.e. the word "with," that would normally follow the word בריתי. After all, a covenant/ברית, of necessity is always made with someone else.

The word ברית is from the root ב-ר-ת which means "to separate out parts." The noun is used to describe an agreement between two parties that is detailed with each element clearly defined.

The use of the pronominal suffix and the absence of a preposition emphasizes God’s role and responsibility in the covenant between God and Israel. For example, in the references in Lv 26:42, God is telling the Jewish people that He stands behind the experiences that are personified by each of the forefathers. Similarly, in his promise of a covenant with Pinchas, God himself has established the concept of שלום, which relates to the harmony that must exist among people as well as between God and His nation. The noun refers to the peaceful situation that exists when human beings live in harmony with themselves and with God. More than an agreement between two parties, this concept is an integral part of God’s society.

The word שלום is from the root ש-ל-ם which means "to harmonize and complete."

What then is the connection between this definition of שלום and with Pinchas’ act of killing Zimri, one of the tribal leaders of Shimon, and his influential prostitute? It is often necessary to engage in aggressive action in order to create the true harmony and peace implied in the word בריתי. Pacifists and those unable or unwilling to fight for God’s principles do not contribute to שלום. Their ostrich-like behavior in the face of threats to individual’s rights and possessions encourage the breakdown of שלום. Those whom a society may designate and denigrate as extremists may indeed be those who will bring God’s harmony to the world. Creating and preserving that harmony is one of the normal functions of the Kohen. Therefore, Pinchas, by his seemingly violent action, has earned the status of K’huna. God rewards what would seem to be an act of violence with בריתי שלום, thereby illustrating the Divine conception of what שלום truly must be.

Hirsch comments on the broken "Vov" (וו) in the word שלום that is found in our verse, relating it to Pinchas’ actions. The Midianites and Moavites were able to incite the Jews to sexual excesses and idolatrous practices because the society of Israel was lacking in wholeness and harmony. It took the aggressive action of Pinchas to restore the complete "Vov" and bring the nation to its senses.

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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