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Parshas Pinchos

Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Parshat Pinchas

Oct 21, 2009

 

 

In the aftermath of the plague that killed out 24,000 men of the tribe of Shimon, Hashem commands Moshe to take a census of the Bnei Yisroel. Chazal liken this to a shepherd whose flock was attacked by wolves. He counts them to see how many survived the attack. (1)

The Torah enumerates the tribes and assigns to each of their offspring the title of "mishpocho" - family. For example, the Torah states that Reuven's son was Chanoch and he was the head of Mishpachas HaChanochi - the Chanochi family. By stating it thus, Hashem is surrounding the names of the children of the tribes with the two letters of His name - the "hey" and the "yud".

This serves as a testimonial to the purity of the lineage of the Bnei Yisroel. (2)

When the Torah enumerates the offspring of Shimon, mentioned among them is Shaul the head of the Shauli family. Chazal reveal that this was one of the names of Zimri Ben Salu, the prince of the tribe of Shimon who was executed by Pinchos together with the Midianite princess Kazbi.

Does it make sense that his place is among those who Hashem enwraps with His very name as evidence of the purity of their lineage when he acted in a contrary manner by engaging in an impure relationship?

In order to comprehend this we must delve into the antecedents of the tragic incident of Zimri and Kazbi.

The tribes of Israel did not receive Pinchos' act with equanimity. The members of the tribe of Shimon actually attempted to kill him. Pinchos' mother was of the daughters of Putiel (a descendant of Yisro). They attributed his act of zealousness to his impure origins. He is descended from Yisro who fattened calves for idolatry, and as a result his motive for killing Zimri was tainted. Therefore, the Torah makes a special point of tracing his lineage to Aharon HaKohen, a Levite. Pinchos acted for the sake of heaven just as his ancestor Levi did when he, together with his brother Shimon, annihilated the city of Shechem. (3)

Pinchos' action is attributed to that of his ancestor Levi.

How did Zimri justify his act? Why did his tribe consider Pinchos' act one of murder to be punishable by death?

Our sages tell us that he brought Kazbi to Moshe Rabeinu and asked whether she is permissible or not. Moshe responded in the negative. "If so, who permitted you to marry the daughter of Yisro, also a Midianite"? (4)

It is clear that he viewed himself as acting for the sake of heaven. He felt his attraction to Kazbi was a divine one just as Moshe Rabeinu enjoyed with his spouse. In this he erred, but what was the source of his error?

The Torah in Parshas VaYigash relates the offspring of Yaakov Aveinu who descended with him to Mitzrayim. Among them is the son of Shimon, known as Shaul Ben HaCanaanis. When Dina was liberated from the hands of Shechem, she refused to rejoin her family unless her brother Shimon would vow to marry her. Shaul Ben HaCanaanis was the product of their union. He is called Ben HaCanaanis as a result of his mother's captivity by a Canaani. (5)

The Targum Yonason tells us that Shaul ben HaCanaanis is the very same Shaul of this week's sedra, otherwise known as Zimri Ben Salu.

Dina was affected by her encounter with Shechem ben Chamor. The previously pure unsullied state that she had attained became tainted. She feared that her place in Klal Yisroel was lost forever. She could only regain her lofty level via a bond with one of her brothers, specifically Shimon. Shimon was empowered with the ability to embrace and bring into Klal Yisroel someone who is innately pure and remove the taint which is only to be found on the surface. (6)

Zimri Ben Salu was the product of this union. His very essence was forged from the cleansing of the pure from the evil taint of the Canaani within.

He saw in Kazbi a kindred spirit, a reenactment of that noble union between his father Shimon and mother Dina. He would bring her under the wings of the Shechina and purify her. Another one of his names was Shlumiel Ben Tzurishadai. The name "Tzuri - Shadai" means the rock of faith that overcomes all others. Kazbi was Bas "Tzur". She was destined to enter Klal Yisroel and through the prince of the tribe of Shimon be purified from the deep layer of "tumah" that covers over the spark of holiness within, thereby her "tzur" being refined by his "tzur". (7)

But Kazbi wasn't ready for this destiny. This wasn't the manner in which her purification process should take place. Another time, another setting would have been appropriate, and Zimri paid the ultimate price for his misdeed. (8) The tribe of Shimon recognized this but reacted with vengeance. Zimri who acted out of his pure origins, albeit improperly, should not be put to death by one who stems from an idol worshipper, an impure origin, and therefore one who is suspect of acting not for the sake of heaven. The Torah clarifies that the conduct of Pinchos emanated from the exact same source as Zimri's, the incident of Shechem and Dina, where Shimon and Levi took upon themselves to forcibly protect the purity of their sister and Klal Yisroel. (9)

The name of a person represents his identity. Zimri had more than one name. It is quite interesting to note that in the end of parshas Balak, in the passages relating his act and subsequent punishment, he is referred to as "Ish Yisroel" - a man of Israel.

In the beginning of this week's sedra he is mentioned by name as the one who was killed by Pinchos. His name being Zimri Ben Salu. Later in the sedra during the census of the Bnei Yisroel he is mentioned as Shaul.

The gemorra in Sanhedrin reveals the meaning behind these two names. The name Zimri Ben Salu denotes the abundance of times he indulged himself with Kazbi and the shame he brought upon his tribe. The name Shaul means he "lent" himself for sin. Two names, one of them descriptive of what he did, the other an illustration that this deed was not part of his identity, just as a borrowed item is not truly the property of the borrower. (10)

Pinchos, by killing Zimri, separated the chaff from the wheat. For doing what he did, Zimri had to die, but his true essence lives on. His death was an atonement for his act. Chazal compare Pinchos' meting out the death sentence to the bringing of a "korban". (11) The word "korban" means to bring close. Zimri was the "Korban". (12) His death enabled him to be close to Hashem and remain part of Klal Yisroel. He and his offspring are the "Mishpachas HaShauli". They continue to act as the vanguard of the purity of our nation. It is therefore only appropriate that Hashem's name should surround the name of Shaul.

The Ohr HaChayim comments on the usage of the description "Ish Yisroel". Despite his deed, at the very core he is an Ish Yisroel, and he has a chelek in the world to come, as the Mishna says, "Kol "Yisroel" yesh lohem chelek laolam haba". (13)

(1) Rashi Bamidbar 26,1
(2) Rashi Bamidbar 26,5
(3) Kli Yakar Bamidbar 25,11
(4) Rashi Bamidbar 25,6
(5) Rashi Breishis 46,10
(6) Sefer Machsheves Charutz
(7) Shaar Maamorei Razal
(8) Shaar Maamorei Razal
(9) Kol Mevaser, Chelek 1, Parshas Pinchos
(10) Meseches Sanhedrin 82b, Ohr Hachayim 26,13
(11) Medrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 21,3
(12) Ohr HaChayim, Bamidbar 25,14
(13) Ohr HaChayim, Bamidbar, 25,14

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