In our previous article, we began exploring the fascinating story of Pinchas. Throughout the Torah, there are many heroes with awe-inspiring ascents to greatness. When we think of Moshe, we picture a burning bush, a dramatic confrontation with Pharaoh, and a spectacular splitting of the Yam Suf. When we consider Avraham, we imagine a man thrown into the flames, undergoing bris milah at the age of a hundred, and the willingness to sacrifice his designated son on the altar. However, when we think of Pinchas, what do we see? The image is hazy, evoking conflicting emotions and begging for explanation.
We explained that Pinchas’ zealotry was appropriate because he acted only out of love and devotion for Hashem, with absolutely no personal motivation. In explaining the bris kehuna that Pinchas received, we explained that by killing Zimri and putting a stop to the rampant sinning occurring within Klal Yisrael, Pinchas both prevented further sin and was mechaper (atoned) for their past sins, thereby putting an end to the mageifah (plague). This is the exact role of the Kohen: to help atone for sin and maintain the Jewish People’s connection with Hashem. In doing so, Pinchas earned his right to be a Kohen. Kehuna was not an arbitrary gift; it was the positive consequence of the person Pinchas chose to become – a zealot for Hashem. Now, let us take our discussion a step further.
In addition to the bris kehuna, Pinchas was granted the bris shalom. There are several ways to understand the meaning and significance of the bris shalom. On the most basic level, we can suggest that the beracha of shalom is meant to signify the result that Pinchas created. Hashem had brought a plague upon Klal Yisrael for their immoral behavior, and it would have killed many more Jews had Pinchas not intervened. By killing Zimri, Pinchas pacified Hashem’s anger and brought shalom between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. Ironically, the only way to create peace was through an act of violence.
The second approach requires a deeper understanding of shalom. Simply translated, the Hebrew word shalom means “peace.” But the deeper meaning of shalom is “harmony and balance.” Shalom is not when two parties sit next to each other without hurting one another. True shalom is when different parties, perhaps even contradictory parties, are able to interconnect, harmonize, and unite in a way that transcends the sum of their parts.
This is the spiritual concept of tiferes – harmony of opposites. Tiferes is linked to the word pe’er, which means beauty; both words share the same shoresh. What exactly makes something beautiful? When you watch the sun set along the beach, for example, the sight is undeniably beautiful. What, though, makes this scene so beautiful? Is it the sun, the water, the different colors, or the reflection of the sun on the water? In truth, there is no one thing that makes something beautiful. True beauty is the result of many contrasting pieces melting together into a harmonious oneness; it is from this synthesis that beauty emanates. Beauty results when different colors, shapes, ideas, and sounds melt into a single connected body, forming an indescribable transcendent fusion. Fascinatingly, this is why a doctor is called a rofei, a word comprised of the same letters as the words pe’er and tiferes. A doctor’s job is to balance all the different forces of the body – to create homeostasis and inner harmony.
This same concept applies to the principle of emes. The uneducated mind thinks of the truth as a single, factual statement. But the truth is actually the balance and harmony of opposite, seemingly contradictory ideas. This is the basis behind the principles of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis – two contradictory ideas that are resolved by a third concept. For example, if I were to tell you that the library is closed on Wednesday, and then I told you that the library is open on Wednesday, you would be confused. But the emes – the balanced and holistic truth – is that the library is open in the morning on Wednesday and closed in the afternoon. This is one of the thirteen middos that we use to darshen (derive meaning from) the Torah: “Shnei kesuvim ha’makchishim zeh es zeh ad she’yavo ha’kasuv ha’shlishi v’yachria beineihem – When two pesukim contradict each other, the third pasuk comes to clarify this contradiction.”
A corruption of the truth is taking an isolated idea, which is part of the truth, and seeing it alone as the whole truth, rather than placing it within the larger context of the higher truth. The whole truth is when all the pieces of truth melt into a single, holistic picture. The higher truth is the wholeness and oneness of all the pieces of truth coming together. This is why the Gemara (Berachos 5b) refers to the Torah as truth (emes). The Torah is a reflection of the holistic, full truth of reality.
[The Midrash says, “Istakel b’Oraisa u’bara alma – [Hashem] looked into the Torah and used it to create the world” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:1). The Torah is the oneness from which the world of multiplicity stems from. To re-attain the oneness of truth, one must reconnect the fragmented, multiplicity of truth in this world, sourcing it back to its higher root of oneness. This is the deeper explanation of “Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chaim – (lit.) These and these are the words of the living G-d,” that Jewish law accepts multiple opinions as being true. Each individual opinion makes up part of the larger, holistic truth. (See Eruvin 13b; Ritva, Eruvin ad loc.; Michtav Me’Eliyahu, vol. 2, p. 245; Pri Tzaddik, Maamar Kedushas Shabbos 7; Sanhedrin 34a.)]
This is the meaning of shalom. Shalom is not a lack of conflict. It’s when conflicting ideas and pieces exist in harmony. Not only do they no longer contradict each other, but they actually complement and bring out each other’s greatness. This is why the word shalem means “completion”: harmony and shalom is when the disparate pieces melt into a single whole – a completed whole – greater than the sum of its parts. This is why we strive for shalom bayis in marriage. We don’t only strive for a peaceful house – lacking conflict and arguments. We strive for a relationship of oneness and true harmony between husband and wife where the two partners create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.
This is exactly what Pinchas achieved; he created a state of harmony within Klal Yisrael. Before Pinchas acted, there was absolute chaos and dysfunction; Klal Yisrael was mired in sin, and Zimri was leading them toward greater and greater levels of chaos and dysfunction. Pinchas not only reinstated equilibrium, resetting the balance, but created a stronger, deeper state of connection and oneness – both amongst the members of Klal Yisrael and between Klal Yisrael and Hashem. His actions shook Klal Yisrael to their core and reminded them of who they were and what they stood for. He was the true embodiment of shalom. The bris shalom was a perfect description of what Pinchas had achieved.
A Fundamental Need for the Bris Shalom
There is one last element that requires elucidation. The bris shalom was not only a reward but a prerequisite for the bris kehuna. There is a profound psychological principle: We are affected by our actions, no matter our intentions. In other words, regardless of our intentions, whether lishma (for the right purposes) or not, an evil act will have internal, psychological, and existential repercussions. When Pinchas killed Zimri, he became a killer, irrespective of whether his actions were appropriate. In order to prevent this condition of “being a killer” take hold of him, Hashem granted him a beracha of shalom, countering the violence that would have become a part of Pinchas’s very being (See Haamek Davar, Parashas Pinchas).
Additionally, Pinchas required this beracha in order to become a Kohen and perform the avodah in the Mishkan. A Kohen who kills someone is prohibited from performing the avodah. Hashem gave Pinchas the very means through which he could receive the bris kehuna. Pinchas needed the beracha of shalom to ensure that he would remain pure and deeply connected to shalom despite his violent act of zealotry.
(We find this same idea expressed regarding David HaMelech. The pesukim in Divrei Hayamim explain that David was unable build the Beis HaMikdash because he was a warrior with blood on his hands. The Beis HaMikdash was a place of shalom, connection, and oneness between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. It’s where Hashem connects to this world. Such a place could not be built by the hands of blood and war, even if those wars were milchamos mitzvah (spiritual wars) that were completely justified. This is because people are inherently affected by the things they do. Murder affects a person, regardless of its permissibility.
This idea applies equally in the positive sense as well. The Rambam, Sefer HaChinuch, and Ramchal all discuss how positive actions affect your internal state, irrespective of your outer intentions. If you do something good, even if you didn’t have the right intentions, that good act will reverberate within you, have a positive impact on your internal world, and ultimately create lasting change. True, the ideal may be to first change your inner world, your perceptions, and your beliefs, and only then externalize those internal changes outwards. However, sometimes internal change is too difficult, and we must begin with outer action in the hopes that internal change soon follows. This is the principle behind the term: “fake it till you make it.” Externalize and act like the person you wish to become, because if you do, one day you will actually become that person.)
Pinchas: Zealot and Kohen
This is the incredible, multi-layered story of Pinchas. He was a zealot, a leader, and an enforcer of truth. He stood up for the truth, even when no one stood with him, even when his reputation – and very life – was on the line. He embodied the mission and purpose of a kohen, connecting Klal Yisrael back to Hashem, receiving his bris kehuna as a result. His bris shalom reflects the spiritual shalom and harmony that he created amongst Klal Yisrael, as well as the internal shalom Pinchas required after performing such a brutal, albeit necessary, act of zealotry. May we be inspired to always strive for the higher truth, to stand up for what we know is right, and to consistently create both external and internal shalom.