Pinchas avenged Hashem by slaying Zimri, and as a reward Hashem gave him “My covenant of peace.”
Rashi explains, “like a person who extends kindness and graciousness to one who does him a favor, so here Hakadosh Baruch Hu declared to him His feelings of friendship.”
The passuk states that the reason for this covenant of peace and bris of eternal kehunah is Tachas asher kinei l’Elokov vayechaper al Bnei Yisrael — “because he took vengeance for his G-d, and atoned for Bnei Yisrael.”
The Ruzhiner Rebbe, zy”a, says that the word tachas can mean both “because” and “below.” Therefore, he homiletically explains the passuk thus: “Tachas, below, i.e., in this world, it seemed asher kinei — that he took vengeance. But l’Elokov — the Ribbono shel Olam knew — vayachapeir al bnei Yisrael, that Pinchas’s only intention was to atone for Bnei Yisrael. His only motivation was a deep love for Bnei Yisrael, and in return for this love he merited a “covenant of peace” and “feelings of friendship” — so to speak — from Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
Chazal tell us that Pinchas and Eliyahu are one and the same, and the haftarah of Parashas Pinchas relates a specific episode in the life of Eliyahu Hanavi.
In the haftarah for Parashas Ki Sisa, we read about the miracle at Har HaCarmel, when all Bnei Yisrael gathered upon the call of Eliyahu to see him expose once and for all the falsehood of the idol and its “prophets.”
They watched the false prophets of the idol pray in vain to their god. Then, when Eliyahu davened (at Minchah time) “Aneini Hashem aneini! And let this people know that You, Hashem, are the [one and only] G-d,” a fire descended from Shamayim to devour the korban brought by Eliyahu. At that moment the entire nation fell on their faces and exclaimed the words we recite at the end of Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur: Hashem Hu HaElokim — “Hashem, He is the [one and only] G-d; Hashem, He is the [one and only] G-d.”
The perek goes on to relate how after this miracle, Eliyahu slaughtered the false prophets who were causing so much spiritual destruction. He also informed Achav, the King of Yisrael, that at last the drought he had brought on would be coming to an end, and there would be a great rain.
It is at this point that the haftarah of Parashas Pinchas begins. Eliyahu Hanavi runs before the chariot of King Achav to show that he has no personal animosity against the King. Even after this gesture, and even more strikingly, after the miracle at Har HaCarmel, the evil Queen Izevel, patroness of the false prophets of the idol, announces that she remains determined to have Eliyahu executed.
At that, Eliyahu flees into the wilderness saying, “It is enough now! Now, Hashem, take back my soul, for I am not better than my forefathers.”
Harav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, zt’’l, explains that after Eliyahu heard the intentions of Izevel, it seemed to him that all his words and actions, which he had expected would effect a complete change of mind and heart among his people, had failed to accomplish their purpose.
Eventually Eliyahu found himself at Har Chorev, also known as Har Sinai, where he was told to come out and ascend the mountain before Hashem.
“Behold Hashem is passing, and a great, powerful wind is smashing mountains and breaking rocks before Hashem — but Hashem is not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake — but Hashem is not in the earthquake; after the earthquake is a fire — but Hashem is not in the fire; after the fire, a still, small voice. When Eliyahu heard this he hid his face in his cloak and stepped out to the entrance of the cave, where Hashem spoke to him.”
Harav Hirsch explains that the lesson to Eliyahu was not that his acts of zealotry, symbolized by powerful winds, earthquakes, and fires, were unnecessary or inappropriate. Rather, it was to teach Eliyahu, who had begun to despair of his mission, that even though the wind, tremors and fire had not been simultaneous with the appearance of Hashem, his work had not been in vain.
For as long as falsehood and evil reign supreme, acts that are the moral equivalent of earthquakes, fires and winds that smash mountains are necessary. Their results may not be immediately noticeable, and they are often criticized as fanatical and extreme.
The litmus test for these actions is clear: If they are motivated solely by
the same reason that motivated Pinchas/Eliyahu, namely ahavas Hashem and ahavas Yisrael, then these acts will indeed serve to pave the way for Hashem and His Torah.
[Note: As in most years, Parashas Pinchas is read this year during the Three Weeks, and therefore its haftarah is replaced by that of Parashas Mattos, Divrei Yirmiyahu, which will actually be read this Shabbos.]