The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tammuz 11, 5768/July 14, 2008

"My Covenant of Peace"
(Numbers 25:12)

We are all familiar with the story of Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the priest, who rose up and summarily slew the Israelite prince and the Midianite princess, guilty of shameless and brazen behavior, thereby staying the plague and saving the children of Israel. Clearly it was a heroic deed and a righteous act, one that saved countless lives. But why does G-d grant him "My Covenant of Peace?" (Numbers 25:12)

One could understandably assume that so lofty a title would be granted to Moses, the greatest of Israel's prophets, the faithful servant of G-d, who led the Israelite nation through forty years of thick and thin throughout the desert. Or certainly, Aharon the High Priest who was noted as a man who "loved peace and pursued it" could have been granted the Covenant of Peace posthumously? Why the hitherto unknown Pinchas? And was his act of extra-judicial execution of Zimri and Cozbi really an act that we would identify with the principles that embody peace?

The answer is a resounding yes. But to understand why, we first need to shed the modern day implications ascribed to peace, and examine what the Torah intends by peace. Let's first disabuse ourselves of all the contemporary false notions of peace and how to attain peace: Peace is not attained by compromise with enemies, neither qualitative (moral principles) nor quantitative (land). Peace is not attained by turning a blind eye to the enemy's transgressions nor the the enemy's ambitions. In short, peace, unlike what we are being force-fed by the media and feckless politicians, is not made with enemies.

Aharon the High Priest was indeed the master of making peace, skillfully employing the art of compromise, but the peace he was seeking was what is called in Hebrew shalom bayit - peace among loved ones, friends and neighbors, not peace between sworn enemies. The Hebrew word shalom does not mean either a cessation of hostility nor a laissez faire attitude to the spread of hateful falsehoods. Shalom means completeness, perfection, integrity. Peace is achieved when opposites are resolved and united, which is recalled in our prayer, "May He who makes peace in the heavens - shamayim - (between the opposite forces represented by fire - aish - and - water - mayim also make peace for all of us and for all of the Israel." But opposite forces being harnessed in the name of peace are forces of good not evil. Evil has no place, not at the peace table, not among the true peace makers and not among the assembly of all those who aspire for true peace: completeness and perfection in our love of G-d and our devotion to the truth of His Torah.

The swift-acting uncompromising Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the priest, a true scion of the priestly quality of chesed - loving kindness as exemplified by his grandfather, understood this. His action, though outwardly violent, was imbued with the love of peace - peace in the heavens and peace for all of us and for all Israel. By turning Israel away from attaching themselves to the scheming Midianites, Pinchas returned the nation to the shalom, the completeness, perfection and integrity that Balaam described so eloquently in his prophecy. The true qualities of peace, like the covenant given Pinchas by G-d, are eternal and unchanging. Only when nations turn from the path of violence and hatred, and pursue the perfection of peace - shalom - as extolled by the prophets of Israel, can mankind unite in peaceful purpose.

Tune in this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the heroism of Pinchas, Elijah the prophet, and the latest events on the Temple Mount.

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