Passion's Reward

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Passion's Reward

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


The beginning of this week’s portion deals with the bestowing of the honor of priesthood — the covenant of peace — onto Pinchas, son of Elazar and grandson of Aron the Kohein (priest). What did Pinchas do to deserve this prestigious honor? 

In last week’s portion, Balak attempted to hire Bilam to curse the Jewish people. After having been foiled by G-d, Balak moved on to plan B. This plan entailed enticing the Jewish people through idolatry and sexual immorality.

Unfortunately, this plan had a degree of success as 14,000 people died in the ensuing plague as a punishment for having been involved. While this was happening, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, Zimri, took a Midianite woman, Kozbi, and consorted with her. Meanwhile, Moshe and the other leaders were crying, as they were unable to remember what the law called for.

At that point Pinchas approached Moshe and reminded him that he had taught that when a Jew has relations with a non-Jew, zealots may kill him (this is brought down in tractate Sanhedrin 81b). Moshe replied that since it was Pinchas who recalled the law, he should carry it out. Pinchas did so, killing both Zimri and Kozbi.

What does it mean that zealots may punish?  May other people not inflict punishment, and if not, how do we determine who is a zealot?

A zealot is a person who sees the honor of G-d being publicly desecrated and cannot bear the sight.

When Pinchas saw Zimri commit this terrible sin in the open (Zimri took Kozbi into a tent and made public his intentions) he was unable to bear it. He literally felt that he was unable to live as this disgusting act was taking place. That is a zealot - someone whose love for G-d burns so brightly. This is the ideal we should all strive for: not that we are Jews who merely go through the motions, but we are Jews who feel a real passion for Judaism.

And we see the reward Pinchas received: the covenant of peace. How do we give someone a covenant of peace who has shed blood? True peace is peace between us and G-d. Pinchas restored this peace to the Jewish people. The Ramban says that Pinchas’ act actually prevented the hanging of many Jews who, after they saw what Pinchas did, ended the orgy of sin.

Pinchas is lesson to all of us to take our Judaism seriously. I wish to state at this point that this D'var Torah is NOT a call to the Jewish people to kill other Jews (this law of zealotry is suspended right now). It is, however, a call to increase the passion in our lives for Judaism. And when we see our fellow Jews perform and speak out in favor of actions that are contrary to the Torah, that we not sit apathetically on the side, but that we gently reprove our brothers and sisters, and feel the pain of the desecration of G-d’s name.

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