Good Shabbos and welcome to Parshas Pinchas. This Parsha describes Pinchas as the recipient of the ‘Bris Shalom’- or covenant of peace, as well as discussing a new national census by tribe giving us a 601,730 person strong nation at this point, laws of inheritance (sparked by the sharp questions of Zelophehad’s daughters), the inauguration of Joshua as the successor to Moshe Rabeinu, and finally, a description of the offerings and proscriptions for our many festivals and holidays- Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Shavuos, Rosh HaShuna, Yom Kippur, Succos, and Shemini Atzeres.
To narrow our focus a bit, I would like to focus on the eponymous protagonist of this week, Pinchas, who received the gift of the Priesthood for his zealotry in spearing the Israelite man cohabiting with the goyishe seductress, the daughter of a prince, no less. Now, this ‘earning’ the priesthood as the Midrash tells us, is slightly different from the way that Aharon got the priesthood, namely, as a gift: “The service is a gift that I have given with your priesthood”. There are many levels on which to understand this distinction: on the most basic level, a gift represents kindness. The concept of earning a gift was in fact introduced by Avraham Avinu. The Midrash tells us that Shem the son of Noach received the priesthood. The Midrash makes it clear that he was not chosen to receive the priesthood as a reward. When Shem died, Avraham Avinu received the priesthood. The Midrash states clearly that he was chosen because of his righteousness. Avraham Avinu developed, cultivated and perfected his strength to achieve anything God asked of him. He passed the ultimate test when he went to sacrifice his son Yitzchak. As a result he was granted the highest level of love of God, the characteristic by which he is known as the pasuk states “Avraham ohavi/Avraham, the one who loves me… and in turn, was able to get the closest through this ‘priesthood’.
The Sfas Emes quotes the Zohar in saying that the priesthood is a channel for drawing Hashem’s lovingkindness into the world. God granted the priesthood as a gift. This represents God’s love. The priests, too, whose work in the Beis HaMikdash brings us closer to God and is done on our behalf, represent love and kindness. On another level, we need look no further than R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi in his book, the Tanya, who according to R’ Tokayer, writes that there is a level of love for God which cannot be reached directly. Rather by working on developing awe of God, achieving the highest level we possibly can, each of us according to our individual potential, we are granted a commensurate level of love for God. This level of love is a gift that is granted involving no prior direct effort or preparation. The terms awe and love as used by the author of the Tanya and by the Sfas Emes imply serving God and coming close to Him respectively. We cannot work to experience God directly. However, we can work on serving Him. As a reward, He allows us to experience closeness to Him. Rav Shneur Zalman is teaching us that God’s love – the experience of closeness – is a gift that can be earned. In this sense, Pinchas, too, was granted the priesthood, an aspect of love and kindness, as a gift for acting zealously on behalf of the nation. His total focus on the nation’s behalf was in fact a basis of the Gemara in Kiddushin in comparing the concept of completeness coinciding with closeness to God: The Gemara states that a priest who is physically disfigured may not serve as a priest. The Gemara learns this from the pasuk describing Pinchas’s reward, the covenant of peace.
So in the coming weeks leading up to Rosh Chodesh Av, while we are bein HaMetzarim, it is our duty to serve Hashem with a full heart because we learn out from Pinchas, that only by being shaleim, whole, in our service, can we ultimately come close to Him. Good Shabbos!