“Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace.”
– Numbers 25:12, JPS 1917 Tanach
Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron, Kohein Gadol, nevertheless, had not been granted the status of a kohein (priest), at the time that Aaron and his four sons were designated as such. Rather, only the progeny of Aaron’s sons after their designation as kohein would also become kohein. Pinchas, having already been born at that time, did not automatically become one. Only the future born sons of Aaron’s sons would have that status. Yet, an exception was made, later on in the life of Pinchas, as shown from the narrative recorded in the Torah portions of Balak and Pinchas.
In spite of Balaam’s inability to curse Israel, he compels Balak to enact a devious plan. He explains to Balak that the way to bring malaise and judgment upon Israel is to weaken their kedushah (holiness) from the inside. Therefore, “through the counsel of Balaam,” given to Balak, King of the Moabites, both Moabite and Midianite women were sent to entice the people, “who began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1, JPS). Moreover, a leader of one of the tribes, Zimri, was seen with a Moabite princess.
Pinchas “rose up from the midst of the congregation” (Numbers 25:8, JPS). He followed the Israelite man into his tent, and executed both Zimri and his cohort. For this act, described as a zealous act for the L-rd, the plague that H’Shem inflicted upon the people for their harlotry ceased. Also, Pinchas himself was rewarded with H’Shem’s covenant of peace, an eternal covenant of priesthood, “‘because he was jealous for his G-d, and made atonement for the children of Israel'” (Numbers 25:13). This may sound like a conundrum, for how can he be rewarded with “a covenant of peace, for acting out of zealousness in such an aggressive manner?
Pinchas, was the only Israelite to take responsibility for the effrontery of Zimri and his cohort. For this outrage, of a Prince of Israel (Zimri) cohabiting with a Moabite princess, when he took her into his tent in full view of the congregation, could have set off sparks that would undermine the teshuvah (repentance) of the Israelites, and set an example of the worst kind. Moreover, Zimri’s very act is considered to be a challenge to the authority of Moses. When Pinchas acted, he brought peace between G-d and His people, thus compelling H’Shem to stop the plague that He had enacted as a punishment for the immorality of the people.