Pinchas – Appreciating Hashem’s Judgement

At the end of last week’s Torah portion of Balak and the beginning of this week’s portion of Pinchas, we find the notorious story of Bilaam giving advice to Moav and Midian on how to seduce the Jewish people to sin, thereby destroying them, and the ultimate act of heroism by the zealot Pinchas which led to their salvation.
About Bilaam, it writes in Pirkei Avos (5:19), “Whoever possesses these three things, he is of the disciples of Avraham, our father; and [whoever possesses] three other things, he is of the disciples of Bilaam, the wicked. A good eye, a humble spirit and a moderate appetite he is of the disciples of Avraham, our father. An evil eye, a haughty spirit and a limitless appetite he is of the disciples of Bilaam, the wicked. What is the difference between the disciples of Avraham, our father, and the disciples of Bilaam, the wicked? The disciples of Avraham, our father, enjoy this world, and inherit the World to Come, as it is said: ‘I will endow those who love Me with substance, I will fill their treasuries’ (Proverbs 8:21). But the disciples of Bilaam, the wicked, inherit Gehinnom, and descend into the nethermost pit, as it is said: ‘For you, O God, will bring them down to the nethermost pit those murderous and treacherous men; they shall not live out half their days; but I trust in You’ (Tehillim 55:24).”

The Bartenura on this Mishna comments that a “limitless appetite” refers to the fact that if not for his abundance of physical desires Bilaam would not have given the advice that would lead to the seduction by Midianites and Moabites of the Jewish people to sin grievously. Indeed, he was considered “murderous” because upon his advice 24,000 Jews died. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Why was Bilaam referred to as being a murderer, a spiller of blood? He didn’t actually kill a single Jew; ultimately each Jew decided of his own free will to give into the seduction of the Moabites and Midianites. So why is he branded a murderer and anyone similar to him in character are forever deemed to be, and punished as, his disciple ?

We see, here, Hashem’s strict judgement, that even though Bilaam didn’t have a physical hand in the matter, and the victim’s free will was involved in their demise, but still in all it was Bilaam’s plan and encouragement which caused everything to happen. And it caused permanent repercussion that will last for all time.

On the flip side, the Torah says about Pinchas, “Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the kohen has turned My anger away from the Children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal” (Bamidbar 25:11).
Rabbeinu Bachye
explains about “turning away Hashem’s anger” that the anger should have spread to the entire Jewish nation, but Pinchas completely turned it away and it didn’t spread. What does it mean that Hashem’s anger didn’t spread; didn’t 24,000 Jews die?

However, this is a proof that they were all from one tribe, that is the tribe of Shimon, and not one Jew from any other tribe was affected. This was the ‘turning away of anger’ from the other Jews and this is the explanation of “turned My anger away from the children of Israel,” for strict judgement was only passed on one tribe. This is also what was meant by “so that I did not destroy the children of Israel,” as not one Jew was destroyed [as a whole, outside of the tribe of Shimon]. We see from here that turning away anger from the Jews caused the subsistence of the Jews, for if not, they would have been completely wiped out. If that is the case, then Pinchas indeed caused the Jews to live a very long life, and exist for many years, from then to the end of time. This number of years has no limit or end, and therefore, measure for measure, Pinchas merits to live forever, for Pinchas is Eliyahu Hanavi, as it says in Malachi (2:5) “My covenant was with him, life and peace”. And it says here, “Therefore, say, “I hereby give him My covenant of peace” (Bamidbar 25:12). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It is true that Pinchas brazenly stopped the sinning and therefore Hashem’s wrath didn’t spread beyond the immediate sinners within the tribe of Shimon, which means that the rest of the Jewish people stayed alive. But that happens when any person redirects his or her fellow Jew from deadly sins; yet no one else merits to live forever? Furthermore, it is possible that the Jewish people in the future might choose to be so corrupt and deserve to be wiped out so why did Pinchas deserve such distant ramifications of reward?

Yet again we see Hashem’s strict judgement, this time for the positive. Hashem, All Knowing, with concise precision understands and acts with the exact decisions, measure for measure, of what’s deserving for each person’s actions, knows that since Pinchas’s actions had repercussions for the entire existence of the Jewish People for all time, he therefore deserves to live forever.

No one knows the exact consequences their choices and actions can have, but to believe and understand that Hashem judges and weighs them all with exactitude should be an impetus for us to be more vigilant in thinking through the decisions we choose to make and execute in our daily lives.