וידבר ה' אל משה לאמר, פינחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן השיב את חמתי מעל בני ישראל בקנאו את קנאתי בתוכם ולא כליתי את בני ישראל בקנאתי.
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Pinchos the son of Elozer the son of Aharon HaKohen placated My anger on the Jewish People by avenging My vengeance among them, and I did not annihilate the Jewish People with My vengeance.” (Bamidbar 25:11)
Why is Pinchos’ lineage being listed in detail again, when it was already mentioned clearly in the previous sidra? Rashi explains: “Because the tribes shamed him by saying, ‘Did you see this hothead whose maternal grandfather [Yisro] fed calves on behalf of the idols, and he now killed the Nasi of one of the Jewish tribes?’ Therefore, [in his defense] the verse draws his lineage to Aharon.” The obvious question on Rashi’s statement is that the Jewish People knew of course that Pinchos was Aharon’s grandson, yet they still shamed him. How does it help Pinchos by restating a known fact that the tribes obviously ignored?
We can understand this with the following profound insight: Our sages taught that “Whoever becomes angry is as if he is worshipping idols.” Idol worship is one of the three cardinal sins; a person must give up his life rather than transgress this prohibition. In contrast, there is not even a spelled-out Torah prohibition against becoming angry. Anger is a trait one must work to eradicate as part of his personal character development. If so, how can anger be compared to idol worship?
Let us diverge for a moment to discuss an interesting concept that we come across during the daily morning blessings. Each morning, we thank Hashem for a number of things, including our clothing, our shoes, our returned strength, our eyesight, our erect posture, etc. These are all things that are renewed each morning after a long restful night. One of the blessings is “that You did not create me as a gentile.” This blessing seems out of place among the other blessings which pertain to the goodness that is renewed each morning. We’re privileged to have been born Jewish and we will remain Jewish forever. Why do we thank Hashem each morning anew for this special privilege?
The holy Ari explains that when a person becomes angry he is in grave spiritual danger; his soul may be exchanged and instead of his Jewish soul, a non-Jewish spirit can enter him. So even though he was born Jewish, if he becomes angry he can receive a non-Jewish soul in place of his Jewish one. But each morning Hashem returns the person’s original soul, even if he forfeited it the day before in his anger. Therefore we thank Hashem each day for creating us as Jews, because this too is a renewable blessing.
From the Ari’s words we can see how terrible it is for a person to become angry. While in anger, a person can actually lose his Jewish soul! No wonder that being angry is compared to idol worship, because while a person is angry he may not even have the status of a Jew. Instead, he can be a lowly idol worshipper!
When the Jewish People saw that Pinchos became angry and killed a Nasi, they surmised that due to his anger he lost his Jewish soul. Even though they knew that he was a grandson of Aharon, and they also knew that Pinchos was a great tzaddik in his own right, they nonetheless believed that due to his anger he lost his elevated status. They shamed him by calling him a grandson of idol worshippers. “Just as your grandfather stuffed calves in order to sacrifice them for his idols,” they ridiculed him, “so too you have now become like an idol worshipper.”
If Pinchos would indeed have lost his status due to his anger and been considered an idol worshipper, then he would certainly have become even more angry at his fellow Jews for their ridicule. In actuality, Pinchos remained silent and did not respond. This was a serious test on his character and proved clearly that he remained with his original lofty soul. His silence proved that his actions were not the result of an unholy anger but were done out of compassion for his Jewish brothers who stood to face Hashem’s vengeance. Indeed, Pinchos displayed “My anger” – the anger of Hashem, not a base, human anger. He used a lofty form of anger and vengeance, which are light-worlds away from the form of anger that is compared to idol worship. Therefore, the verse comes and draws his lineage to Aharon, refuting the words of the tribesmen.
Pinchos’ actions saved the Jewish people from a severe catastrophe. He placated Hashem’s anger and brought peace upon the Jewish people. Pinchos was indeed a great tzaddik, a true son of Elozer and a true grandson of Aharon. Hashem made with him a covenant of peace because he publicly avenged Hashem’s honor.
May we all be protected from anger, because there is no telling what terrible damage this trait can cause. If we will eradicate all traces of anger from our hearts, we will bring about the same response from Hashem, who will withdraw His own anger, so to speak. Hashem will transform the coming days of mourning and they will become days of joy and consolation. May we indeed be zoche to the speedy arrival of Moshiach, Amein.