There is a personal story told by the famed Jerusalem Maggid, Rav Shalom Schwadron, Z”L.
While taking a stroll with his wife one Shabbat, he encountered a 5 year old boy running down the hill in Shaarei Chesed. The boy tripped on a rock and fell. As blood trickled from the gash on his forehead, Rav Shalom scooped him up and began running towards the neighborhood medic.
A neighbor, sitting on her porch, saw Rav Shalom running up the street with the young boy in his arms. Thinking it to be his grandson, she called out, “Don’t worry Reb Shalom, all will be fine. There is no need to run so fast and endanger yourself!”
As Rav Shalom came closer, the woman looked down only to realize that it was her grandson in Rav Shalom’s arms.
“My Meirke, my Meirke!” she screamed. “Reb Shalom run faster. Get him to the doctor! Why are you moving so slowly? Oy vavoy!” Rav Shalom resisted the urge to tell her not to worry and that all would be fine…
Thank G-d the child was stitched up and in fact, all turned out well.
While the young boy grew up and forgot about that incident, Rav Shalom learned a story for life.
“My Meirke” became one of his most famous discourses.
How many times are we only concerned about an issue when it’s “Our Meirke”. When someone else is going through a crisis we are quick to say that all will be well, G-d will help, etc. Only when we are affected do we expect others to take action.
Rav Shalom relayed that one must be as concerned for the welfare or plight of another even when there is no personal agenda.
This was the greatness of Pinchas. He took action for HaShem and in order to save the Jewish people. Although not directly affected by HaShem’s “anger” toward those sinning, Pinchas’s true love of G-d and the Jewish people motivated him to take action. Drastic action that saved the people from destruction.
His zealousness was selfless, not self-serving. He was concerned for the honor of HaShem and equally for the welfare of the Jewish people.
His reward was quite fitting. Despite not being technically “eligible” prior to this, Pinchas was made a Kohen.
A Kohen is the ultimate servant of both G-d and the people. His work in the Beit HaMikdash bridges heaven and earth and HaShem to His nation.
How can we relate to the seemingly extreme actions of Pinchas?
We often witness behaviors in other people that might stir a righteous indignation. Some even become “zealous” for the honor of HaShem and His Torah.
How can one determine if his or her feelings and subsequent actions are coming from the right place?
The legacy of Pinchas and the “lesson” of Meirke can be the measuring stick.
When our “interest” or anger towards another arises, we must stop and ask ourselves, “Why am I upset by what that person is doing (or not doing)? Am I concerned for their well-being as well as being worried about the honor of heaven? Am I reacting from a place of love and responsibility or from judgement and self-righteousness? Am I being selfish or selfless?”
The answers to those questions require self-knowledge and introspection.
True “zealots” must have as much love of their fellow person as they do for the honor of heaven. The pain and difficulty of their friend should be real to them as if their own.
Perhaps this is the reason that the Rabbis teach that beyond the Priesthood, Pinchas received an additional, eternal, distinction.
Pinchas is the soul of Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet), the one who will announce the arrival of the final redemption when all humankind are united both with G-d and with each other.
May our true devotion to G-d and humankind bring that announcement speedily and in our days.