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, whose mother’s father 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).
The famous question that is asked is if Pinhas acted properly in acting zealously on behalf of his God, what difference does it make if he was descended from an aristocratic family or from the lowliest among the people? For is not small or great just a name? And if he acted shamefully by spilling innocent blood in vain, did his distinguished lineage not rather amplify and aggravate his guilt than mitigate it?
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 (הלכה ואין מורין כן). The question then arises, why may the law not be taught in public? The answer is that only one who may act in this way is on whose jealousy for the Eternal, upon seeing holiness desecrated by another brazenly having illicit relations with a Gentile woman in broad daylight, burns like a flame, so that his soul, while viewing the outrage, cannot tolerate the desecration without executing the perpetrator immediately. However, someone who could control himself sufficiently to first pose the question to the sages is insufficiently zealous, so that, when executing the perpetrator of the outrage, he would not be considered to be acting 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 only on account of his excessive haughtiness that he committed the deed.” The Scripture therefore connected his genealogy to Aaron, the holy one of the Eternal, to show that he was inspired to rise up to take vengeance on behalf of the Eternal by a raging spirit of justice.
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” (Say, therefore, behold I grant him my covenant of peace): “בדין הוא שיטול שכרו” (by right, may he take his reward)S.
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 (שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא) because doing so by recompensing in this world the good conduct of every person would block the path before evil doers, effectively negating their free choice to do as they want. 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 sincerely 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, there being no reason to fear that anyone else would act similarly for the sake of reward, because such a person would be 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 was punished for having assumed “a crown” (setting 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, bring to me, and I will hear it).
Now one may wonder what “crown” is taken by a master who tells his student that if some matter is too difficult, the student may consult with him? In so saying, he has not even said that he would surely be able to respond and resolve the doubt. A further question concerns precisely what was Moses referring to when he said: “any matter that is too hard for you, 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 concerned 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: hear out the lowly and the great alike. Do not be afraid in the presence 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 must withdraw from judgment, and bring the matter before me, and I will hear it, because to me they are all equal. Neither hatred nor love, and neither the greatness nor the lowliness of a person will make any impression on my heart.”
This was why Moses was punished here, for the daughters of Tzelophehad bribed him when speaking to him (Numbers 27:3): “אבינו מת במדבר והוא לא היה בתוך העדה הנועדים על ה’ בעדת קרח” (our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Eternal in the company of Korah). The comment about their father 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.
That is why the Sages said that 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,” implying that his impartiality would never be compromised.(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)