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 The Torah traces the lineage of Pinchas back to his grandfather Aaron. At first glance, there are no more disparate characters that appear to us in the Torah's narrative. Aaron is gentle and kind, compromising and seeking peace between differing people and factions, noble in character and beloved by all of Israel. When Aaron passes from the world, the entire Jewish people without exception mourned his passing, and felt a great loss that his departure meant to them. Aaron was not only the first high priest of the Jewish people to serve in the tabernacle but was also the prototype for all later high priests that would occupy that position in future generations.

In contradistinction to this assessment of character and behavior, the Torah describesPinchas as a zealot who takes violent action against those who publicly defame and destroy Torah values and the Jewish people. He rises to the occasion by killing one of the leaders of the tribes of Israel. He is criticized by the Jewish people for such behavior, and they attributed his conduct to his lineage. Pinchas was not only descended from Aaron but he also was descended from non-Jewish priests, and his violent characteristics are attributed to his non-Jewish grandfather. Yet, the Torah chooses to emphasize the priestly lineage of Pinchas and attribute his behavior and his response to the public defamation of God in Israel specifically to his grandfather Aaron.
There is a strong lesson being taught with this nuance of lineage that appears in this week's Torah reading. We will find later in Jewish history, at the time of the Greek persecution of the Jews and of Judaism, that another descendent of Aaron, Matityahu, together with his family, also kills a renegade who defames the God of Israel and the Jewish people publicly by sacrificing to idolatry. Here we again see that within the holy and gentle character of Aaron and the priestly clan of Israel, there resides an iron will to stand strong against the defamation of everything that is holy and eternal.
When the situation demands it, the gentle priest becomes a man of war, who can and must take decisive and even violent action, to preserve the integrity of Torah and Jewish life. The Torah is generally not in favor of zealotry. However, as in the case of Pinchas, and later Elijah, sometimes zealotry is not only acceptable but necessary for Jewish survival. The problem always is how can a person measure whether the situation calls for such zealotry and even violent behavior.
This eternal difficulty of life is presented to us. We can rarely be certain as to the correctness of our attitudes and behavior under a given situation or in response to a certain challenge. The Torah does not demand from us the wisdom of angels. But it does show us that there are different, even opposing responses, that are valid in difficult situations in both public and private life. The wise and holy person will be able to choose correctly.
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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