Seven years ago, while in Israel for the year, I collaborated with my grandfather on a lengthy d'var Torah the week of Parshas Pinchas. Though I never published any part of it, I thought it would be appropriate to now share some of the highlights, as this year's Parshas Pinchas marks the first Shabbos of my life that I will not have my grandfather. Rabbi Nachum Muschel z"l passed away this past motzei Shabbos. Needless to say, these words are l'iluy nishmaso.
Pinchas begins where Balak ends. After several futile attempts to curse the Jewish people, Bil'am advises Balak to seduce the Jewish people into committing acts of adultery. As Bil'am says, "Elokeihem shel eilu sonei zimah," the Jewish G-d hates lewdness. Pinchas finds the greatest protagonist, Zimri, and publicly stabs him along with his adulterer Kazbi. At the beginning of this week's parsha, Hashem announces that Pinchas will be rewarded with the "brisi shalom" and the "bris kehunas olam." In addition to being reinstated into the kehunah, Pinchas receives the mysterious "peace covenant." What is this "bris shalom" and how is it the appropriate reward for Pinchas' actions?
To begin, we must understand the philosophy of Bil'am. This short space does not allow full elaboration, but in short, it is clear that Bil'am's fatal flaw was his belief that the Jewish people were subject to normal laws of time. He made several attempts to curse the Jewish people, predicated on his special insight into Hashem's "schedule." Bil'am believed that by using the precise moment ("yode'a da'as elyon"), he would succeed in cursing the Jewish people. His plan was thwarted because the Jewish people defy time. In one such hint, Bil'am's donkey warns him, through use of the words "shalosh regalim," that Bil'am cannot use time to uproot a nation that controls the clock. (My grandfather had a lengthy derasha on this exchange between Bil'am and his donkey, but that's for another "time").
At the end of the parsha, after his failed attempts to curse the Jews, Bil'am advises Balak to use immorality as the next best avenue to weaken the Jewish people. Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that this too was related to Bil'am's power over time. In its simplest sense, adultery is a waste of the future for the sake of the present (i.e. spoiling the unlimited potential of zerah for an ephemeral pleasure, v'ein kan makom l'ha'arich). By killing the leaders of the movement, Pinchas saved not only his contemporary Jewish peers, but he also preserved the Jewish future. He ensured once again that Bil'am's repeated efforts of using time against the Jewish people would fail due to the eternal nature of the Jewish people.
As a result, the most fitting reward for Pinchas' heroic act was for him to transcend time. On the pasuk of "brisi shalom," the Yalkut Shimoni says that "Pinchas hu Eliyahu," Pinchas is Eliyahu ha'navi. Since the story of his riding the chariot to Heaven, we know little about Eliyahu's existance. We do know that unlike any other, perhaps even greater prophet, Eliyahu was blessed with eternal life. To this day, he appears twice in Jewish ritual: the night of the seder and at a new child's bris milah.
By ensuring the future of the Jewish people on a micro and macro scale, Pinchas merited becoming the personality of Eliyahu who lives forever. Furthermore, he appears at the two events that most embody Jewish continuity. Performing the mitzvah of bris milah on a new baby immediately following its birth represents the continuation of generations; this baby will be an observant Jew like his parents. When we mark this passing of the torch, the creation of a new Jewish generation, Eliyahu sits there as a guest, honored that he helped preserve this endless chain of generations. His second visit comes on leyl ha'seder, a time when Jewish continuity is in the spotlight. As parents tell their children the story of our national Exodus in addition to their personal exodus (b'chol dor va'dor), Eliyahu again comes to participate in this special evening of Jewish continuity.
Not coincidentally, my Zayde pointed out, these two mitzvos, Pesach and milah, appear as another duo. Out of the 36 transgressions one can commit to deserve kares, only two are violations of positive commandments: not bringing a korban Pesach and not performing a circumcision. In light of the above, the reason is obvious. One who does not participate in the mitzvos of Jewish continuity, the mitzvos involving the immortal Pinchas/Eliyahu, deserves kares, being cut off from the Jewish people (either through premature death or death of children). Someone who does not inscribe his son with the Jewish seal or does not share the miraculous stories of G-d's abilities has no share in a people who are so deeply committed to tradition.
The story of Pinchas' heroics and appropriate reward is an idea I developed with Zayde Muschel several years ago. The idea is most fitting for his life, which was obsessed with Jewish continuity. He insisted on taking the Jewish education and tradition that he learned and experienced in Europe, and teaching it not only to his children and grandchildren, but also to the countless others who were associated with one of his many institutions, including HIRC and ASHAR. It was only this past week, through the week of shiva, that I began to appreciate just how many lives he touched. The entire Jewish community will miss him, but will most certainly be devoted to continuing his legacy. Yehi zichro baruch.