This past Monday evening, over dinner with the eishes chayil, chaver Elliot Ostro and his eishes chayil Gail, Elliot asked what topic the Oisvorfer was covering this week in this, the 9th time around parshas Pinchas. Elliot said: “I hope you’re not discussing the “b’nois Tzilofchod.” And we are not: we previously covered the Tzilofchod Five, the amazing daughters Tzilofchod left behind, how they aggressively pursued their rights to inheritance, and how through them, the laws of inheritance were given over from the RBSO to Moishe, and from him to the Yiddin. Instead, this year we will begin and mistama also end by talking about tainted people who were loved by the RBSO and how they can inspire us. Let’s begin.
There was a time when man lived for hundreds of years. Odom lives 930 years, Noiach 950, Misushelach (Methusale) 969 years, and the list goes on. At some point in time, the RBSO decided that approximately 120 years was more than enough years on this earth -mankind was getting into all sorts of trouble- and taka it’s unusual for us to read of anyone living past that age. Moishe died at 120, his brother Aharoin, passed that same year at 123, and their sister Miriam lived until 126. Ober this week we will read of a person who may have lived -even in the face of shortened lifespans- hundreds of years longer. According to some- he’s still alive. And who was that man? None other than Pinchas, a not so gentle man who earned the peace prize and a parsha in his own name. He’s still alive? Or, he lived how long? We shall address these questions below, ober ershtens…
As an introduction to Pinchas and his longevity, let’s get a shtikel acquainted with the Nobel Peace Prize which is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel. As an aside, he also established prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature. The first ever Nobel Prizes were awarded back in 1901. The Peace Prize for that year was shared between the Frenchman Frédéric Passy and the Swiss Jean Henry Dunant. Since then, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 99 times to 133 Nobel Laureates. Between 1901 and 2018, 106 individuals and 27 organizations shared the price and since March 1901, it has been awarded annually (with some exceptions) to those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses, whatever that means. What the hec are peace congresses? Ver veyst! Ober says Wikipedia, a modern day Rashi, azoy: A peace congress, in international relations, has at times been defined in a way that would distinguish it from a peace conference (usually defined as a diplomatic meeting to decide on a peace treaty), as an ambitious forum to carry out dispute resolution in international affairs, and prevent wars. This idea was widely promoted during the nineteenth century, anticipating the international bodies that would be set up in the twentieth century with comparable aims. The bottom line: here we are 118 years later, these awards are still given out, and yearly there are many applicants for each of them. Due to its political nature, the Nobel Peace Prize has, for most of its history, been the subject of numerous controversies.
Ober, was Alfred Nobel mamish an innovator? Did he mamish establish the first ever peach price? Moreover: “ma inyan shmita eytzel har Sinai” (what has the peace price to do with this week’s parsha of Pinchas)? And the answer: everything. Long before the late 1890’s when Mr. Nobel first established the prizes, the RBSO, in the year 2488, some 3291 years ago, established the first ever peace prize and bestowed it upon a man by the name of Pinchas, a controversial figure as we will learn just below.
Though Pinchas did not receive any cash with his prize –estimated at somewhere between 1-1.5M in cash these days- he didn’t fare too badly. What did he get and why? Was he deserving? We shall address those questions below and we begin with this fact: Pinchas was anything but a man of peace; in fact, it’s 100% emes that he killed two people just before the RBSO chose him as the recipient of the first ever peace award. Was killing a condition precedent to being selected?
Why did Pinchas kill two people? The parsha does not tell us, ober not to worry because the very end of last week’s parsha (Bamidbar 25:6-8) tells us that his actions followed a most bizarre incident involving lewdness. “Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions, in the sight of Moishe and of the whole Israelite community who were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. When Pinchas saw this, he left the assembly and, taking a spear in his hand, he followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. Then the plague against the Israelites was checked.” The parsha ended by telling us that the plague took the lives of 24000 Yiddin. The bottom line: Pinchas witnessed two people having sex in public, a Jewish fellow with a shiksa, and killed them. We assume he also witnessed many Yiddin chapping from the Moabite shiksas; more on them below.
As this week’s parsha opens, the heylige Toirah tells us how the RBSO accepted Pinchas’ actions and rewarded him for his vigilantism. What specifically did he receive as a reward for pleasing the RBSO? Let’s quickly read the pisukim in English. Says the heylige Toirah (Bamidbar 25:10-15), azoy:
The Lord spoke to Moishe, saying, “Pinchas, son of Eleazar son of Aharoin the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion. Say, therefore, I have granted him a covenant of peace. He and his descendants will possess an eternal covenant of priesthood, because he zealously acted on behalf of his G‑d……”
The name of the Israelite who was killed, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house. The name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi daughter of Zur; he was the tribal head of an ancestral house in Midian.
He turned the RBSO’s wrath away? How? And he got the priesthood? Can Priesthood be rewarded? Says Rashi: just as one cannot change morning into evening, one cannot alter the definition of priesthood. Since Pinchas was not a priest beforehand, how could his conduct, however virtuous, earn him that distinction? Taka an excellent kasha! Moreover, what has priesthood to do with the “covenant of peace” bestowed upon him?
Wait: more questions! Our sages teach us that “Pinchas zeh Eliyahu” — “Pinchas is Eliyahu.” Pinchas is who? Eliyohu? The same Eliyohu who is to announce the coming of the Moshiach? The same Eliyohu about whom we read many generations later? And if that’s even emes and given that Eliyahu lived generations after Pinchas, how old was he? Did he ever die? When did Pinchas become Eliyohu? Did he have a name change? Was he in the WPP (witness protection program) after killing two people? And if he was Eliyohu, should the Sages not have stated that “Eliyahu is Pinchas” and not farkert? So many questions, ober the Oisvorfer –as usual- is here with some givaldige answers. Not his own: answers he dug up while researching this topic. Lommer lernin (let’s learn).
Pinchas was Eliyohu? Ober listen to this: according to the heylige Zoihar (217A), he the great mystic, Pinchas was none other than Nadav and Avihu. Nu, time for two Tylenol because zicher a headache you will have as you read of the various identities Pinchas may have had. Did he also have multiple social security numbers? In the end, who was he? Ver veyst? Zicher he was Pinchas; after that, ver veyst? Ober let’s roll with the medrish and various other exegetes who all had something to say about this very colorful character, who, though zicher guilty of murder, was also beloved by the RBSO. In addition to the peace prize, he -as mentioned above- also got a parsha named for himself. Not just any parsha, as Pinchas is the most often-read from parsha in the entire heylige Toirah (Rosh Chodesh, the Chagim, and the parsha in its rotation). Not too shabby!
Was he anyone else? Efsher (possibly) and says the Zoihar (217a),azoy: when Pinchas killed Zimri, his own soul also departed (he was dead). Ober the RBSO revived him by placing the souls of Nodov and Avihu into him. What all that means, ver veyst and where is it written that we need to understand all the Zoihar had to say. We trust that he understood and that should be good enough for most of you. Veyter!
Nu, let’s start here: why was he controversial? Because, as stated above, he killed two people; is that not enough? He took matters into his own hands; he was a vigilante! Why did he kill them? He was offended by what he considered a lewd sex act: Zimri and Cozbi were having sex in the open. Mamish? For those who only chap under the covers and that would be most of you, sex in the open is mamish unheard of: unthinkable and seemingly punishable by death! We previously covered the relationship details of Zimri and Cozbi and the bottom line is azoy: Moishe seemingly was a shtikel perplexed on how to handle the matter. He was still mesmerized by the fact that as last week’s parsha was coming to a close, some 24,000 Yiddin came and went, if you chap. The RBSO killed them all following the orgy with the Moabite shiksas who seduced the hapless Yiddin. Nu, after 40 years of valgering (wandering about) in the midbar, and given the desert heat, and with not much else to do daily, can we blame the Yiddin? Was sex with the Moabite shiksas so giferlich? Punishable by death? Thankfully, most of us are still alive and well, if you chap. Ober, we must also chap that a swift punishment from the RBSO typically follows the deadly combo of idolatry and sex. How many times has the Oisvorfer told you how much the RBSO abhors mamish- the idolatry/sex combo? He can –at times- forgive and even maybe forget forbidden sex, even if lewd – hec, He forgave Loit’s daughters for raping their own father, He forgave Reuvain for bedding one of his father’s wives and He forgave other questionable sexual acts, ober when combined with avoido zoro, it’s always lethal and results in death. Hey, let’s not forget Dovid Hamelech (King David) and his more than questionable relationship with one (efsher married) Batsheva. Ober the RBSO gave him a pass as well: it’s good to be the King, and for the RBSO to like you. In any event, Pinchas, without consultation and zicher without permission, decided that the behavior of Zimri and Cozbi (efsher mishpocho with another Cosby, this one a male, if you chap, ver veyst) was abominable mamish, and killed them both. And the RBSO’s response? Several awards: the covenant of peace and the covenant of priesthood. Not too shabby at all. Ober what did the peace prize entail back in Toirah times? And before we answer that, let’s quote the Netziv who was wondering azoy: Pinchas acted violently, even militantly. Shouldn’t his reward have been a medal of war, a prize for zealotry and courage? Why a covenant of peace? Shoin, we asked so many questions, let’s try and answer a few.
What was the peace prize? How long did Pinchas live? And if he did live long, or is still alive, how did all that come to be? And who is he? Nu, according to some, the “bris sholom” – the peace covenant given to Pinchas- was “peace from the malach ha’moves (angel of death). OMG! In plain English: he was rewarded with long life, the angel could not touch him. And they know this how and from where? Seemingly because we find Pinchas much later in history; he’s very much alive and well. Scriptures indicate that Pinchas was the koihen Godol (High Priest) in the times of the later judges. Says the Novee (Shoiftim 20:28), azoy:
“The Israelites inquired of the Lord (for the Ark of G-d’s Covenant was there in those days, and Pinchas son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest ministered before Him in those days.” Shoin! There you have it, Pinchas lived at least 300 years and maybe as long as 500, ver veyst.
Does everyone agree that the peace convent assured long or eternal life? Not! Says Rabaynu Bichay: the peace covenant simply means that the RBSO would protect him from the vengeance of Zimri’s brothers, who sought to kill him to avenge the “murder” of their brother. Protection is taka what he needed after killing Zimri and Ms. Cozbi.
And his connection to Eliyohu? Says the medrish (Yalkut Shimoni, Bamidbar, 25. 771), “Pinchas was the same as Eliyohu,” and hear this: Pinchas -very much like Eliyohu- ascended to heaven in a whirlwind and is alive to this day. He never died! Gishmak! Don’t like that pshat? Try this one also from the Zoihar (219a), also mentioned by the Kidushas Levi: when Pinchas killed Zimri, he too died. At that time, however, he reached a spiritual level which merited him the name “Eliyahu” through which he was enabled to return to earth. He continued, however, to be called by the name “Pinchas,” although in reality “Pinchas zeh Eliyahu” — the person called “Pinchas” now had the life-force of Eliyahu. What that means, ver veyst, ober the bottom line according to this pshat is azoy: Pinchas was the prophet Eliyahu. Why him and not any other person?
They had something in common: zealotry! What is the connection between them? Eliyahu was one of the outstanding zealots in history. He protested vehemently against the false prophets of Ba’al, and challenged them to a confrontation on Har (Mount) Carmel. There he killed 400 of them with his sword. Mamish a cut above others. Ring familiar? As an aside, for those who never read this story, the next morning he was on the run from Queen Yezebel who was trying to kill him. Things were looking so bleak, Eliyohu asked the RBSO to take his life. Instead the RBSO re-assigned him to be a “malach Hashem,” and to appear at every bris event. Pinchas, in this week’s parsha wasn’t very popular with the Yiddin after killing Zimri and Cozbi? Maybe there are the same person? Ver veyst? Eliyohu killed 400 people and is a man of peace very much like Pinchas. Gishmak!
Ober doesn’t the Mishneh (last one in Eiduyos) teach us that one of the Eliyahu’s first jobs upon arrival to announce the coming of the Moshiach will be “la’asois sholom be’oilam” (to make peace in the world) and to unite the Yiddin? It does! And so says the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 12:2). As an aside, given the herculean effort of this mission, is it a wonder he’s not here yet? In any event, the same Eliyohu who killed the 400 false prophets, and who might be Pinchas, who killed two people without inquiring of the halocho (laws) governing lewd sex with a shiksa in public, is also a man of peace. Gey farshtye (try to understand), it’s mamish amazing!
The bottom line: Pinchas, Eliyohu, and mistama the rest of us, are complex personalities. On the one hand Pinchas and Eliyohu were violent vigilantes. On the other -mistama after the RBSO rewarded Pinchas with the peace covenant- he became a dove, a peace-maker. As another aside: we have in our times seen more than one hawkish politician become an overnight dove when seeking the Nobel Peace Prize. What people will do for some kovid and over one million?! Pinchas was a complicated character; zicher not without fault, ober still liked by the RBSO for taking action to appease Him when His anger was flaring. At times, one good deed is all that’s needed; since the RBSO didn’t tell us which deed gets us a pass, we must do many. Yikes!
Did Pinchas live a long life? Is he still alive? Excellent kashas and let’s see if we can find out. There are several Toirah characters to whom our sages ascribed immortality. Some say that our forefather Yaakov “loi mais” (he never died). Others include Eliyohu. Pinchas, the eponymous but somewhat tainted hero of our parsha might be another. After killing Cozbi and Zimri for fornicating, the RBSO rewarded him by making him a koihen (priest) for all time. Maybe He just redirected his urges to slaughter into the kihuna (priesthood) where slaughtering was performed strictly by the koihanim. Could be! Does “all time” mean forever and that he’s still alive? Zicher there are hints in the heylige Toirah and Tanach (Scriptures) as mentioned above, that Pinchas lived an extraordinarily long life. Other medroshim suggest that Pinchas lived not only extraordinarily long, but that he was granted immortality.
So happens that this past Sunday, the Oisvorfer attended a class given by Rabbi Yaakov Trump on the subject of Toirah She’ ba’al peh (the Oral Tradition). In the notes handed out and during discussion on the unbroken chain of our misoirah (tradition), the Rambam (Maimonides) lists 40 generations of people who passed the teachings of Moishe (the heylige Toirah) all the way down to Rav Ashi who codified the heylige Gemora. Pinchas is listed twice as being the recipient of the teachings. Only if he survived the Midbar experience, entered the Land, and lived hundreds of years after, could he have been the recipient.
The bottom line: Pinchas was taka tainted but went on to live hundreds of years, if not more, with the blessings of the RBSO who saw his other good character traits. We’re all Pinchas: most of us have good and bad traits, it’s all part of the package. Pinchas teaches us that there is, or should be, hope for all of all us.
A gittin Shabbis-
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv