By Rav Shaul Feldman
Every year, when we read the end of Parashat Balak and the story of Pinchas, I’m sure that many of us are disturbed on many levels. On one hand, it’s disturbing how a leader of the tribe of Shimon can act in such shamelessness. A leader that comes from a tribe that took the law in their hand and took revenge at the city of Shechem for Chamor marring their sister Dina should have not fallen for this scandal. On the other hand, the reaction of Pinchas taking the law into his hands and killing the sinners not waiting for a clear command from Moshe to do so!
Chazal pick up on this: the Malbim explains that the reason Pinchas is promised to stay in the family of the Cohanim is because a person who killed shouldn’t really be a practicing priest… for that reason Hashem spoke up and said that in this case, because Pinchas did it to save the Jewish people, he would be an exception and will be allowed to practice as a priest.
Additionally, the Zohar relates to this issue: when the Torah mentions in this week’s Parasha the name of the sinners, the Torah chooses not to mention at the same time the name of Pinchas who performed the act of killing.
What we learn from these points is that as much as the end result of Pinchas was heroic, Chazal points out to us that such practices shouldn’t be acceptable. The tribe of Shimon started with extreme actions against the city of Shechem that led them to sin in the same sin they fought against. That forced Pinchas to react in an extreme, but Hashem put a stop to it by making sure the emphasis was placed on the reward of peace to Pinchas and on making changes in the wording of the story, so that we understand that the extreme action Pinchas did wasn’t an act that would be promoted in the Jewish world.
Rabbi Shaul Feldman is the Director of Bnei Akiva of the U.S. and Canada. Previously, he held teaching positions at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, Yeshiva University and Torah Mi’Zion Kollel, and spent four years as a Bnei Akiva shaliach.