Our Parsha begins with Pinchas, the son of Elazar, receiving one of the greatest praises that Hashem gives to any individual in the Torah. A “Brit Shalom” covenant of peace, is awarded to him for his merits. What was so great about his actions that merit him to receive such praise?
Let’s first explore an idea of test and reward. We learn that we are constantly being tested by Hashem in our lives. The Yetzer Hara “the evil inclination” puts tests before us and then reports our results up to Hashem. Our lives our full of tests and that is why the study of Torah and working on our “midot”, (our personal traits) is so important, so that we will properly know how to tackle these challenges. If something or someone angers us, will we explode or will we have the restraint to stay calm; Someone tempts us to do evil, do we succumb to the peer pressure or do we have the strength in our values to stand up for what is right;when bad thoughts enter our minds, do we continue to dwell on them, or can we have the ability to end these toxic thoughts even though we know that nobody can read our minds and know what we are thinking. These are just a few of the millions of tests that we constantly go through on a daily basis.
Nobody goes through life without tests and we see that our great Tzadikim (our Jewish heroes and Heroines) went through tests that we would never wish normal people to go through. Similarly, if people attend a class of a motivational speaker, if the speaker says that they never had to go through any significant challenges in life, nobody would be able to connect to the speaker because we all know that tests and challenges happen to us all. To the rich and to the poor, to the young and the old, to the male and the female, to the intelligent and to the simple minded.
The Torah recommends that a person not become too rich or too poor, because both of these extremes with lead a person to have immense challenges. The rich will have many “problems of the rich and famous”, where they will have little respect for others (often even their family members) and become self centered and become gluttons who over-eat, over-spend, over-gamble, or over-use drugs and alcohol. They will have immense pressures pushing them to cave into their evil inclinations. The very poor person will also have immense challenges of jealousy and coveting what others have and the inclination to steal and not being able to give. We learn from our sages that the “middle route” is the best and that the challenges of the extreme are likely be too great for a person to handle.
So now with this idea of tests and reward and Pinchas, why was he rewarded so greatly? His reward was essentially GD telling him that you and me will be friends forever. We do not know the reward for each mitzvah that we do and the ethics of our fathers tells us in a mishna that we should not start to guess the value of each Mitzvah and that a small mitzvah is just as important as a big mitzvah. There is an idea that although we cannot assign values to different Mitzvot, if a person does a mitzvah that is harder for them to do and really fights their “yetzer hara”, then this provides the biggest reward for them. One of the hardest things to do, is to not be “a sheep” and do just as everyone else is doing. Being different is uncomfortable, difficult, but we see that our leaders and very successful people, often got there by taking a different approach.
We have been dealing with the nations of Moav and Midian, waging war against the Jewish people. They want to destroy Israel as they sense the close Godly connection and they want the Jewish people eradicated from the world (sound like a familiar story). So they first want to kill us in battle, since the obvious way to get rid of a people is to literally kill them. But just like today, where our enemies realize that the IDF is very powerful and the Jewish nation is strong, they fear to engage in war with us. They were initially afraid because Israel had just won big battles against the most powerful nations of the world, and so they knew that military victory would be nearly impossible. They tried sorcery and black magic, and hired the most powerful evil prophet in the world, Bilam, to launch spiritual warfare against Israel, and this did not work. Bilam is so shocked by the holiness of the Jewish camp, in their great modesty, that he can’t help but give them a blessing. “O how goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places of Israel”. This leads them to their next tactic, which is to lead the Jews astray from Hashem and get them to sin and thus destroy themselves. They unleash their women on the Jewish camp, and many men sin with them. Moshe cries that his people are abandoning the commands of GD and is paralyzed with sorrow, but as Zimri (the leader of the tribe of Shimon) publicly sins in front of everyone with a Midianite woman (who happens to be a princess of Midian), Pinchas the son of Elazar is the first to react and says that enough is enough and he kills both her and Zimri. Everyone was too afraid to do anything as this was an important head of a tribe and an important woman, but Pinchas immediately acted.
If a person (lo aleinu) knows that his end is near and he sees his life is about to end, he should say Shema Israel H’ Elokeinu, Hashem Ahad and then Baruch Ata Hashem mekadesh et shimcha b’rabim. This means may Hashem’s name be made Holy to the multitudes/the masses. Bringing Holiness to Hashem is our goal in this world, and we have the mitzvot as our road map. Sinning, which affects our Neshama (our soul) and brings us punishment in Olam Haba (after life) and often also in Olam Hazeh (this world), but when a person sins to the masses, meaning makes a very public sin or gets others to sin, this is much worse than even a personal sin. Because of the public sin of Zimri and showing that others should do the same, Pinchas immediately realized how much Hashem detests this and he took matters into his own hands. He would later be praised for his courage and leadership.
Some of the messages learned here: It is important to be a leader and not follow the sins of the masses,and it is important to stand up for glorifying Hashem’s name. To make a decision with full confidence we should study Hashem’s Torah and know wholeheartedly what is right as much as we can. Pinchas came from the tribe of Levi and they were granted the ability to be the holy teachers of Torah for years to come, so PInchas’s Brit Shalom can refer to Torah and its ability to bring peace in the world. The Pirkei Avot says, “Marbe b’Torah, Marbe b”Chaim”- Lots of Torah learning brings lots of meaning and quality to life. We also say in the final paragraph of Ein KeloKainu that Talmdei Chamchimim (Torah scholars) bring great peace to the world.