At the end of Parshat Balak (Bamidbar 25 :7-8) in the midst of a plague which was brought about from B’nai Yisrael acting promiscuous and worshipping idols with the Moavite women, Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the grandson of Aharon the Kohen saw the leader of the tribe of Shimon and the daughter of the king of Midian acting promiscuously. Pinchas rose up, took a spear in his hand, followed the Israelite man into the tent and pierced them both…and the plague was halted from upon B’nai Yisrael.
At the beginning of Parshat Pinchas we read (Bamidbar 25:10-13): “God spoke to Moshe saying: ‘Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen turned back my anger from upon B’nai Yisrael, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so that I did not consume B’nai Yisrael with My vengeance. Therefore tell him that I give him My covenant of peace. It shall be for him and his descendents after him a covenant of eternal kehunah (priesthood) because he took vengeance for his God and he atoned for B’nai Yisrael.’”
Nechama Leibowitz points out that the Rabbis of the Jerusalem Talmud state that the religious leaders at the time were not happy with what Pinchas did and wanted to excommunicate him. Therefore God immediately declared that Pinchas did the right thing.
According to Rabbi Baruch Epstein, author of Torah Temima, the religious leaders wanted to make sure that Pinchas did not have a selfish motive when he murdered the couple. God therefore backed up Pinchas and said that his zeal was genuine.
Rav Kook explains that when it was time to write the blessing V’Limalshinim (Against Heritics) for the Shmoneh Esrei they needed to choose a Talmudic sage who loved his fellow creatures rather than a hateful person in order to insure that it would be written with the purest of motives and for the sake of Heaven as it is a blessing of vengeance: “And for the slanderers let there be no hope; and may all wickedness perish in an instant; and may all Your enemies be cut down speedily. My you speedily uproot, smash, cast down and humble the wanton sinners- speedily in our days. Blessed are You God Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.”
The person who was chosen to write the blessing was the Talmudic sage known as Shmuel HaKatan (Shmuel the Modest) who teaches in Pirkei Avot 4:19 a quote from Mishlei 24:17-18: “Rejoice not when your enemy falls and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and it displeases Him and He turn away His wrath from him.”
Pinchas and Shmuel HaKatan were not looking for honor, they were selfless people who did what they needed to for the sake of Heaven.
The Jewish people today still follow the words of Mishlei that are quoted by Shmuel HaKatan. We do not rejoice at the downfall of our enemies. At the Pesach seder we remove a drop of wine as we recite each plague to remember that even after all of the horrible things that the Egyptians did to us, we do not rejoice at their downfall. When our enemies die or are killed in wars we do not celebrate. This holds true right now during Operation Protective Edge where the IDF strives to keep the casualties of war to a minimum. We are not looking to celebrate the downfall of those who want to destroy us, we are just trying to protect ourselves.
God gives Pinchas a covenant of peace. According to Abravanel, God protects Pinchas from the relatives of Zimri who may want to kill him as an act of revenge.
According to the Netziv, the covenant of peace is that Pinchas should not become quick tempered and angry. His heart should not be in an emotional unrest after having killed two people, rather he should have peace and tranquility of the soul.
We pray for peace in the Land of Israel and throughout the world.