Parshat Pinchas 5775: A Fine Legal Point?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Pinchas is being sponsored by Avraham and Miriam Deutsch of Efrat in honor of our brave chayalim. To the Deutsch family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring (or as the case may be, co-sponsoring) a Parshat HaShevua.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Pinchas 5775: A Fine Legal Point?

by Moshe Burt

Near the end of Parshat Balak, Torah’s narrative explains that Bila’am’s scheme to seduce Jewish men to avodah zora by way of immorality (co-habitation, halachically disallowed liaison) resulted in a plague which killed 24,000 Jewish men until Pinchas’ act of impaling the prominent co-habitors brought the plague to a halt. In addition, Bamidbar, Perek 25, posuk 4 and 5 read;

“And Hashem, said to Moshe: Take all of the chiefs of the people, and hang them up unto the Hashem in the face of the sun, that (there) may turn away the fierce anger of Hashem from Israel. And Moshe said unto the judges of Israel: Slay you every one his men that have joined themselves unto the Ba’al Peor.”

Rabbi Chaim Zev Malinowitz explained in a Shabbos Drosh a few years ago what was, for this author, a Chidush (a new thought or idea) which shed some new light on the significance and magnitude of the Jews’ chet (sin) of the Ba’al Peor and Pinchas’ act of slaying Zimri and Kozbi as they co-habited.

Rav Malinowitz asked how it could be that the B’nai Yisrael, through 200 plus years in Mitzriyim and throughout their forty years of wandering in Bamidbar, maintained a derech which precluded illicit co-habitation, and yet have gone so fundamentally wrong in immoral co-habitation with Moabite women on the eve of entry into Eretz Yisrael? He brought a Medrash Rabbah indicating that Hashem brought a stream of water from Sodom to Shittim where the B’nai Yisrael were encamped and suggested that the ingesting the water apparently brought about a test of B’nai Yisrael which many failed.

Rav Malinowitz cites Rashi on Perek 25, posuk 4 and 5, particularly posuk 5:

Rashi on posuk 4:

Take all of the chiefs of the people — that they shall judge the worshipers of Peor and hang them up — the worshipers…

Rashi on posuk 5:

Slay you everyone his men — Everyone of the judges of Israel killed 2 (offenders); and the judges of Israel numbered eighty-eight thousand, as it is stated in Sanhedrin (folio 38).

If we do the math, if 88,000 judges each hung and killed 2 sinners, that’s 176,000 of the Am Yisrael who died by hanging. Now add to that the 24,000 who died in the plague and we see that the Chet of the Ba’al Peor took the lives of fully 1/3 of B’nai Yisrael before Pinchas’ impalement of Zimri and Kozbi as they co-habited brought an end to the death.

Rav Malinowitz also added, citing sections of Tanach, that, for example, Yehoshua noted decades after the Jews entered Eretz Yisrael that the B’nai Ysrael are still suffering for the sin of the Ba’al Peor and that full tikkun (rectification) for the chet will only come in times of Moshiach. He indicates that Hashem did an abundant favor for B’nai Yisrael in permitting them to enter Eretz Yisrael in wake of the chet.

This author reasons further that, just as only 20% of B’nai Yisrael were up to the test of taking the Korban Pesach, slaughtering it and applying the da’am to their doorposts, so too 1/3 of the new generation in Bamidbar failed a crucial test just before entry into Eretz Ysrael.

And it seems strange that Zimri, the leader of Shevet (tribe of) Shimon, the Shimon who with Levi, acted against Shechem and the Shechemites after Shechem violated their sister Dina, would now act and condone co-habitation with other than B’not Yisrael.

From Torah’s narrative, there is no doubt that Pinchas acted l’Shem Shemayim (for the sake of Hashem) by impaling Zimri and Kozbi and so merited the Kehuna and eternal life. However, there seems to be a point which this author has not previously focused on closely and seems in need of clarity. According to Halacha, as explained by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz in his sefer “Majesty of Man” on our Parshat Pinchas (page 247):

When a Jew sins with a non-Jewish woman in front of at least ten people, the Torah allows an individual to take action — “a zealot may kill him” (Sanhedrin 82a)…. One who is so determined to uphold the honor of Hashem that he cannot let evil exist before him — is permitted to take the law into his own hands.

…Note that Pinchas, who so wanted to carry out the will of Hashem and bring the sinners to justice, did not run in a heated passion to kill Zimri and Kozbi. He first went to inquire of Moshe what the law was and only then did he take action.

The Zimri/Kozbi liaison had to be witnessed in progress by a minyan to halachically mandate their deaths. But, after Zimri brought Kozbi into the camp and in front of Moshe, they were sequestered in Zimri’s tent which was surrounded by guards. Do we therefore understand that the act of bringing Kozbi into the camp and confronting Moshe were, themselves sufficient witnessing and intent to justify action without the minyan actually witnessing them in the act of co-habitation? Or was the act of Pinchas impaling them both by their members with Moshe’s spear and showing them before the camp, in their impaled state — linked together in the act of co-habitation, proper satisfaction of halachic witnessing and thus mandating their death?

What is meant was that this author has always understood that Pinchas went into the tent (under a rouse as tent was guarded by others from Shavet Shimon) and impaled Zimri and Kozbi in the tent and then displayed them to the public their impaled state — in the act — at the point of the spear. Do we understand this public display as satisfying the halachic parameters (their act witnessed by a minyan) for the mandate of death? Or do we understand that Zimri’s bringing Kozbi into the camp and confronting Moshe, and Pinchas’ impalment of them, taken together justify the mandate of death “in the act”? What we seem to have here is a fine legal point. But it in no way diminishes the meritorious action of Pinchas.

On another point, were there mandated warnings to be issued, as with the wife about to sequester herself with someone other than her husband? Or did Moshe’s halachic ruling to Zimri regarding such co-habitation constitute sufficient warning, if such warning was even necessary?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe noted in regard to Pinchas’ action (Studies in the Weekly Parsha, by Yehuda Nachshoni, Parshat Balak, page 1113);

“He impailed the woman through the belly”; “He aimed his spear between their male and female members, proving that he did not kill them in vain.” Why would we think that he had killed them in vain? Rather, the Torah here alludes to the law that a zealot has free reign only while the act is in progress.

What the Lubavitcher Rebbe appears to be describing is another legal point which is not discussed by R’ Leibowitz, the concept known under the loshen; Kannoi Pogim Bo — that a zealot witnessing a co-habitation between a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman may slay them both only provided that the slaying occurs as they co-habit. (bottom of Sanhedrin 81b through top of 82a) Therefore, apparently this author understands that there are two halachot concerning the sin of such co-habitation. One halacha in the case where such co-habitation is witnessed by 10 or more men, and the other where a single zealot witnesses the co-habitation where the parties involved in the co-habitation are sequestered, i.e., in the case of Zimri and Kosbi, that they co-habited in the privacy of Zimri’s tent and Pinchas’ intervention, killing them both spearing them by their respective members.

R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch Z”l (the new Hirsch Chumash published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Daniel Haberman) discusses the magnitude of the sin compelling Pinchas’ zealous action. R’ Hirsch provides translation of a few of the last posukim of Parsha Balak (Perek 25, posuk 6, page 524 and posukim 14 and 15, page 530) and commentaries:

“…A man from among B’nai Yisrael… brought the Midianite woman…” (posuk 6)

“The name of the slain man of Israel, who was slain with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, a prince of… the tribe of Shimon.” (posuk 14)

“The name of the slain Midianite woman [was] Kozbi, daughter of Tzur; he was the head of the peoples… in Midian.” (posuk 15)

A man of B’nai Yisrael had, with the Midianit flouted Hashem, His Torah and Israel. Therefore he became liable to punishment at the hands of a zealot… moved by zeal for Hashem, …Torah, and for Israel…

Rav Hirsch then writes on the merit of Pinchas’ act for which Hashem conveyed upon him the Kehunah (Perek 25, posuk 13, page 529):

…Just as the tribe of Levi attained the rank… by it’s actions at the sin of the golden calf and then was expressly chosen for this office, the same happened here: In his act of rescue, Pinchas acted as a Kohen…; he carried out in actual practice the atoning devotion which the avodah of the Kohen performs symbolically in the Sanctuary [Mishkan, Beit Hamikdash]. That is why he was elevated the rank of Kohen [everlasting Priesthood] after his act.

Thus Hashem conveyed the Kahuna, and eternal life upon Pinchas in vindication regarding the vicious, false accusations against him and in recognition of the justness and Kiddush Hashem of his action. We can only hope that Hashem rewards those few and brave voices who speak out about Our Divine Right to Har Habayit and to all of Our Land — Eretz Yisrael. May those voices become our governmental leaders!

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

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