Insights into Parshat Pinchas of Mr. Noam Sonnenschein of Yeshivat Sha’alvim, by Rav Re’uven Ungar of Sha’alvim.
וְהִנֵּה אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּא וַיַּקְרֵב אֶל אֶחָיו אֶת הַמִּדְיָנִית לְעֵינֵי משֶׁה וּלְעֵינֵי כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל”
“וְשֵׁם אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמֻּכֶּה אֲשֶׁר הֻכָּה אֶת הַמִּדְיָנִית זִמְרִי בֶּן סָלוּא נְשִׂיא בֵית אָב לַשִּׁמְעֹנִי…
“Then an Israelite man came and brought the Midianite woman to his brethren, before the eyes of Moses and before the eyes of the entire congregation of the children of Israel…The name of the Israelite man who was killed, who was slain with the Midianite woman was Zimri the son of Salu, the chieftain of the Simeonite paternal house.”(25:6,14).
Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld says in his sefer Chachmat Chaim that Zimri’s conduct seems to be very inappropriate, especially for someone who was a prince in bnei yisrael. As a nobleman of shimon he should have exemplified better midot than to indulge himself in these immoral behaviors. At least if he felt he couldn’t control his desires he should have at least committed this act in private. What was the point of Zimri passing the women right in front of Moshe’s face, and in public view of all of klal yisrael? Rav Sonnenfeld said to understand this we must first understand why it was so problematic for the Jewish man to stray after the midianite women. Rashi told us earlier that this wasn’t just a classic case of promiscuity but rather the midianite women were luring the jewish men into worshiping their gods. Zimri, as a leader in Israel, was worried about the avodah zarah that was taking root through the midianites. For the good of the people he knew something needed to be done to stop this problem. He then thought of the following idea: If we can’t stop the men from chasing after the midianite women, at least we should prevent further idolatry. So instead of the Jewish men going to the midiante homes to fulfill their desires, instead let us bring them here to our camps. Zimri thought that this might at least stop the avodah zarah. Even more so maybe we can convince these women to convert to Judaism.
It was this that Pinchas rose up against. He realized that such a compromise was even worse than the original situation, for in Zimri’s suggestion the holy “camp of G-d” would become desecrated. Pinchas thought, let those who can’t control themselves go and fulfill their desires in the midianite camp, but the camp of Israel needs to retain its purity and holiness.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin(82b) relates that bnei yisrael were not impressed with Pinchas’s show of zealousness in killing Zimri. They said, “This man’s grandfather (Yitro) used to fatten up calves to sacrifice to idols, and now he goes and kills a prince in Israel!” The Torah then immediately afterwards reminds the people of Pinchas lineage on his father’s side, as he was a grandson of Aharon.
What point were the people trying to make by recalling the idolatrous background of one of Pinchas’s ancestors? And what was the Torah’s message in immediately afterwards stressing his paternal lineage. Everyone knew well that Pinchas descended from both Aharon and Yitro? Rav Sonnenfeld explains that the people’s argument was this: “Since Pinchas has an idolatrous priest in his family, this explains why he was so opposed to Zimri’s plan to minimize idolatry in the camp. That’s why he killed him.” The Torah therefore refuted this by pointing to his paternal lineage. It’s as if the Torah is saying to the people that you were mistaken. In killing Zimri, Pinchas was guided by considerations of his service to Hashem, which he inherited from Aharon, and not from any negative spiritual flaw that he may have inherited from his idol-worshipping side.