What’s in a name? In Jewish tradition one’s (Hebrew) name may memorialize/honor a loved one; it may contain a prayer that this child be healthy, beautiful or righteous (Refael, Yaffa, Tzidkiyahu); or it may contain mystical meanings that help shape & guide the course of our lives.
The name of this week’s protagonist, Pinchas, is quite fascinating, for it contains within it another well-known name: Noach. What is the connection between the two?
Both Pinchas & Noach were righteous. Both, in effect, saved the nation through their noble actions; Noach by building an Ark that preserved all of humanity, & Pinchas by stopping a devastating plague that had already killed 24,000 (some say 10 times that many) people. Both faced hostile mobs: Those who sought to forcibly prevent Noach from boarding the ark; & those who wanted to lynch Pinchas for having killed Zimri, an Israelite prince.
Both also received unparalleled rewards: Noach & his wife Na’ama would be the progenitors of all future human beings; & every Kohen Gadol to subsequently serve in the Bet HaMikdash would descend from Pinchas alone.
But for all these similarities, there was one major difference in their personalities: Noach was a reluctant hero who, like Moshe Rabbeinu - whose life was also saved by a tayva, a (miniature) ark! - did not seek glory or rush to leadership. He took a full 120 years to build that ark, perhaps hoping that, in time, the skies would stay cloudless & his mission would be aborted.
But Pinchas was quite the opposite. He was a man of action, who took matters - not to mention a spear! - into his own hands, who immediately rushed into the breach when the situation called for it. He even bypassed his own mentors, Moshe & Aharon, who hesitated when Zimri staged his perverse version of "the Cozbi Show."
The Torah notes Pinchas’s alacrity when it says, B’kano et kinati v’lo chiliti et Bnei Yisrael b’kinati ("Pinchas was jealous for me"). The same word, Kina, is used 3 times in the pasuk. Now, we usually translate kina as jealous, but Chazal change just 1 letter & say it means zealous. The difference? When the object of your desire is yourself, it is jealousy, a negative trait. But when you act to defend Hashem’s honor, it is zealousness, or z’rizut, an admirable quality.
Pinchas was a tikun for his ancestor Noach & his quick, instinctive reaction is praised by G-d. Logically, Pinchas’ story should have been told completely in last week’s sedra. By finishing it here, Pinchas, who did not succeed Moshe as leader, eternally merited a parsha in his name.