“Pinchas the Zealot, and King David”

by Ephraim Z. Buchwald

The opening verses of this week’s parasha, parashat Pinchas, contain the conclusion of the dramatic narrative concerning Pinchas, the son of Elazar, who turns back G-d’s wrath from the Children of Israel by killing two prominent individuals who had committed an act of public harlotry, and challenged Moses’ authority.

In last week’s parasha, parashat Balak, we read in Numbers 25:7-8, that Pinchas stood up from amidst the assembly with a spear in his hand, followed the Israelite man into the tent, and pierced both the man and woman through their stomachs. His brazen act halted the plague from the Children of Israel, but only after 24,000 people had already died.

The identities of the two prominent people are then revealed in Numbers 25:14-15: The man was Zimri the son of Salu, the leader of the house of the Simeonites, and the Midianite woman was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur, who was a distinguished leader of Midian.

For his “heroic” actions, the Torah states, Numbers 25:12, that G-d gave Pinchas בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם, G-d’s Covenant of Peace. Furthermore, says the Torah, Numbers 25:13, וְהָיְתָה לּוֹ וּלְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם, because he took the vengeance for his G-d and achieved atonement for the Children of Israel, Pinchas and his offspring after him shall be given a covenant of eternal priesthood.

Rabbi David Holzer, in his valuable transcription of lectures delivered by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, raises the following issue:

The reward of Pinchas is very puzzling. Pinchas does an act of killing in Hashem’s Name and is rewarded by being elevated to the Kehuna [Priesthood] and allowed to serve in the Beis HaMikdash [Temple/Tabernacle]. However, Dovid HaMelech [King David] fought many wars on behalf of Hashem, but was told that because he had spilled so much blood, he would not be able to build the Beis HaMikdash, and instead it would be left to his son, Shlomo [Solomon].

Rabbi Holzer asks the profound question: Why was Pinchas rewarded with an eternal covenant of peace and the office of priesthood, while King David was prohibited from building the Holy Temple in Jerusalem? After all, both killings were justified and intended to sanctify G-d’s name? What then was the reason that King David was prevented from building the Temple in Jerusalem?

Although Rabbi Soloveitchik does not directly address this question, Rabbi Holzer refers to a lesson on “War and Peace” that Rabbi Soloveitchik had delivered in 1975, whichhas bearing on this issue.

Rabbi Soloveitchik asserts that the fact that King David had fought so many wars, should have been considered an asset and not a liability with regard to his qualification to build the Jerusalem Temple. After all, the wars that King David fought were intended to sanctify G-d’s name and rid the People of Israel of their mortal enemies! Furthermore, of all the leaders, King David should have been the most appropriate to build the Temple, because he united the people and the kingdom, which resulted in an extended period of peace for the nation.

Furthermore, while it is true that King Solomon did not engage in battle, his kingdom was far from tranquil, and by the end of his life, Jeroboam the son of Nebat, began to criticize Solomon and rebel against him, eventually tearing away the ten tribes of Israel, and establishing the prodigal northern Kingdom of Israel after Solomon’s death.

Citing the example of Moses, Rabbi Soloveitchik attempts to explain David’s disqualification. He suggests that one of the reasons why Moses was not permitted to enter into the Holy Land is because, had Moses entered the land of Israel, the land would have become eternally sanctified. Had that happened, no power in the world could have driven the Jews out of the land of Israel. But G-d, in His infinite wisdom, had other plans. Apparently, the long exile was necessary to prepare the people for the ultimate redemption.

Rabbi Soloveitchik also suggests that had King David built the Temple, the Temple too would have been everlasting, again, foiling the Divine plans for its destruction, rebuilding, destruction and rebuilding.

Only the Messiah has the power to build the eternal structure for G-d in Jerusalem. Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that King David, as the potential Messiah, did have the ability to do that, but the Al-mighty wanted the Temple to be erected by David’s progeny, and the Messiah, who will be a direct descendent of King David.

Pinchas, however, was not disqualified from receiving the eternal covenant of peace and the covenant of eternal priesthood, because the priesthood did not interfere with G-d’s ultimate plans for Israel. In fact, the covenant of peace and the eternal covenant of priesthood were necessary to help pave the way for heralding the Messiah. The priests, too, are intended to guide the people on the path leading to the arrival of that special era.

While the building of the third Temple has not yet occurred, all signs point to the fact that the ultimate redemption is not far off. Indeed, it appears to be very much at hand.

May we soon see the redemption of all our people!

May you be blessed.