Although this week’s Parsha is named for Pinchas, it’s his actions at the end of last week’s Parsha, Balak, that set the scene for where we are today. As we completed the Torah reading last Shabbos morning, the wandering Jewish people are in Shittim and begin physically and spiritually getting a bit too close to the Bnei Moav. Physically, the men of Bnai Yisrael begin sleeping with Moabite women. Spiritually, the verses state the they began to bow and serve their God as well. Believe it or not, this is not taken too well by the Almighty, who tells Moshe to command the Shoftei Yisrael to kill any man who was connected at all to serving Ba’al Pe’or. Zimri ben Salu, the nasi of Shimon took no heed to this edict, and openly paraded himself with a Midianite woman in front of Moshe and the nation. Upon witnessing this, Pinchas took a spear and killed both of them. There were 24,000 total that died as a part of this plague.
We now begin Parshas Pinchas: “Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal. Therefore, say, ‘I hereby give him My covenant of peace. It shall be for him and for his descendants after him [as] an eternal covenant of kehunah, because he was zealous for his God and atoned for the children of Israel.'”
It seems a bit out of character for Pinchas’ full lineage to be listed here, as it’s not a commonly seen practice elsewhere in the Torah. We’ve previously discussed an idea from Rav Soloveitchik on this matter, that this is to show us that Pinchas’ actions were done in accordance with the mentality of his grandfather Aharon.
The Or Hachaim Hakadosh, Rav Chaim ben Attar (whose yahrtzeit fell out last week) has an additional take on why this is. He explains that through the act of his grandson in stopping the plague of death from those who had fallen to such levels of wanton sinning with Bnai Moav, Hashem meant to reconcile Bnai Yisrael with Aharon in reference to cheit haeigel. In Shemos, while the Golden Calf was destroyed when Moshe returned from Har Sinai, there were thousands of Jews killed for having partaken in the sin. It was Aharon who fashioned the idol, even though he did not serve it.
It’s interesting to note that despite what we know about Aharon that this still could’ve been possible. How do we recognize him in the grand scheme of Jewish history? When Aharon dies just a few parshios earlier, there doesn’t seem to be anyone celebrating the high priest meeting his demise. Fahkert, just the opposite! Bnai Yisrael weep and mourn his passing for thirty days (In fact, this is the source for our people to note a end of the sheloshim period for a relative that has died). These were not tears of happiness to be rid of such a nefarious, horrible individual. The reaction of the kehillah was real and emotional. Aharon was loved.
One could also imagine this notion of the Or Hachaim as something that Aharon struggled with internally to a tremendous degree, and could’ve been a secret that he shared with his family and close confidants. Something that plagued him for years, something that he could not shake. This incident was not something that Aharon took lightly. The Midrash (Tanna Devei Eliyahu, Chapter 13) states that Aharon was constantly going around seeking to atone for what he had done. He would go out and to chessed for others and teach Torah, in an effort to mend the tremendous spiritual rupture that came from the eigel hazahav.
Unfortunately in our world today, there are many individuals who struggle to cast off an internal picture of who they are, whether based on decisions they’ve made previously, or sometimes for no reason at all. They can be engrossed in helping others for hours on end without a single soul knowing the depths of their kindness, yet at the end of the day, they may still feel uncomfortable with themselves knowing there is more they have yet to accomplish. Aharon HaKohen was a tremendous leader who worked every day to better himself, yet he could have still defined himself as the conduit to the greatest sin that befell the nation. This seemingly minute detail of listing Pinchas’ grandfather shows us that there should be no more resentment toward Aharon, even after the generation had died out, and that the circle had been symbolically closed.