פינחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן
Pinhas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the Priest
Rashi comments: because the tribes spoke disparagingly of Pinhas, saying: “Have you seen this grandson of Puti, the father of whose mother used to fatten calves for idolatrous sacrifices? And he has dared to slay a prince of one of the tribes of Israel!” The Scripture therefore connects his lineage to Aaron (Sanhedrin 82b).
There is a famous question, which is that if he acted properly in being jealous on behalf of his God, what difference does it make if he was from an aristocratic family or from the lowliest among the people? For is not small or great just a name? And if he acted basely by spilling innocent blood in vain, does his distinguished lineage not make his guilt even more unbearable?
Our master answers the question by referring to the law that one who has illicit relations with a Gentile woman may be executed by a zealot, but the law may not be openly taught. The question then arises why, if why the law may not be taught in public? The answer is that only one whose jealousy for the Eternal burns like a flame upon seeing holiness desecrated by another brazenly engaging in illicit relations with a Gentile woman in broad daylight and whose soul, seeing this outrage, cannot abide the desecration without executing the perpetrator immediately may act in this fashion. However, anyone who controls himself sufficiently to ask the sages who know the law is not sufficiently zealous so that when executing the perpetrator of the outrage he would be considered to be fighting on behalf of the Almighty. That is why the law may not be taught publicly.
This was also the complaint of the tribes who poured scorn and contempt on Pinhas by saying: “Did you see this son of Puti who emerged naked from the womb of an idolatrous Gentile woman? How could one such as he be so jealous for the Lord, God of Israel, that he could not control himself and slew a prince of Israel? It was only because of his excessive haughtiness that he did the deed.” The Scripture therefore connected his genealogy to Aaron, the holy one of the Eternal, to show that what inspired him to rise up, in a raging spirit of justice, to take vengeance on behalf of the Eternal.
And in this light how well may the words of the Midrash about the verse (Numbers 25:12) be understood: “לכן אמר הנני נתן לו את בריתי שלום” (wherefore, say, behold I give to him my covenant of peace): “בדין הוא שיטול שכרו” (by right, may he take his reward).
According to what has been said, the words of the Midrash are like pure silver, because the Sages say “שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא” (the performance of commandments brings no reward in this world). For the Eternal does not reward those who do good here below in order not to close the way before those who want to do evil. For if the actions of a person were recompensed in this world, then the choice in the hands of every person to do as he wants would be negated. Who, then, would not hurry to perform all the commandments of the Eternal? Performing the commandments would be no different from hired labor, doing work only for compensation. However, the commandment that a man should be jealous for his God cannot be done for recompense. For then would he not be taking a man’s life? And wouldn’t doing so be just like murder for hire? Instead of a reward, his violence would bring God’s vengeance down upon him to avenge the spilling of blood. Only the man who truly and wholeheartedly is jealous on behalf of the Eternal and whose anger burns for the desecration of His name of honor may take such an action without being punished for it. It is therefore just that Pinhas received his reward here on earth, because there is no reason to fear that anyone else would act similarly for the sake of reward, because had he done so for the sake of a reward he would have been considered a murderer. (שביבי אש)
‘ויקרב משה את משפטן לפני ה
And Moses brought their cause before the Eternal
Rashi comments: The law on this subject escaped him. Here he received punishment for having assumed “a crown” (having set himself up as the supreme judge) by saying, (Deuteronomy 1:17): “והדבר היקשה מכם תקרבון אלי ושמעתיו” (and any matter that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.”
Now one may wonder what “crown” does a master take if he tells his student that if any matter is too difficult, the student may consult with him? In so saying, he has not said that he will surely be able to respond and resolve his doubt. A further question concerns precisely what Moses referred to in saying “and any matter that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me,” because it was so obvious that there was no need for him to say it. It is obvious that what is too difficult for the students should be brought to their master.
Our master explained, in the name of his father (R. Avraham Glasner 1826-78), that the verse about which we are speaking was concerned with a different issue, for there Moses said: “לא תכירו פנים במשפט כקטן כגדול תשמעון לא תגורו מפני איש” (you shall not be partial in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike; you shall not be afraid of the face of any man). His meaning was: “If you ever feel within yourselves that you are tending to one side, because of respect or fear, then you should withdraw from judgment, and then bring the matter before me, and I will hear it, because to me they are all equal. And neither hatred, nor love, and neither the greatness nor the smallness of a person will make any impression on my heart.”
And this was why Moses was punished here, for the daughters of Tzelophehad bribed him when they spoke to him (Numbers 27:3): “בתוך העדה הנועדים על ה’ בעדת קרח אבינו מת במדבר והוא לא היה ” (our father died in the wilderness; he was not in the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Eternal in the company of Korah). This comment is evidently irrelevant to their case, but they wished to inform Moses that their father was one of his friends at the time that Korah and his company rose up against him. So, when they spoke to him, Moses felt sufficient partiality in his heart that he felt unable to judge their case. That is why he felt it necessary to bring the matter before the Eternal.
The Sages therefore said that here Moses was punished for having taken a “crown” in saying “and the matter that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.” (שביבי אש)
יפקד ה’ אל-הי הרוחת לכל בשר איש על העדה אשר יצא לפניהם ואשׁר יבא לפניהם ואשר יוציאם ואשר יביאם
Let the Eternal, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them, and who may come in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in
See how Rashi explains the repetitive expressions, while the Ibn Ezra wrote that “אשר יוציאם” (who may lead them out) is by means of an agent.
Our master explains that a leader who walks at the head of the people to show them the way on which they should travel and the deeds that they should perform must be able to speak eloquently and to conduct himself fittingly. Therefore, by saying “אשר יצא לפניהם” (who will go out before them), Moses was referring to the deeds of a leader and to the work of his hands. And when he said “ואשר יוציאם ואשר יביאם” (who may lead them out and bring them in) with his words (Ecclesiastes 12:11): “דברי חכמים כדרבונות” (the words of the wise are goads). (שביבי אש)