David Walk
David Walk

The Peace Deal

Pinchas is one of those Biblical characters who is a bit shrouded in mystery. He is this Biblical action hero who takes the law into his own hands, with a lot of violence. However, he’s also a Cohen, an agent of peace and Divine service, who is promised that his line will remain priests forever. There is a Midrashic school of thought that he is also immortal, and appears in later Jewish history as Elyahu, who roams the earth awaiting the appearance of Mashiach. But this week I’d like to investigate one of the two covenants (BRIT) promised to him by God, BRITI SHALOM, the peace promise.

Here’s the verse: Therefore, say, ‘I hereby give him My covenant of peace’ (Bamidbar 25:12). This statement is both cryptic and enigmatic. And the mystery is only deepened by Rashi’s comment on the verse: That it should be a covenant of peace for him. Just as a man owes gratitude and favor to someone who did him a favor, so here God expressed to him His feelings of peace.

Is this just an announcement of God’s good wishes and appreciation? And what is this ‘peace’ (SHALOM)? The Gur Aryeh’s explanation of Rashi is that SHALOM isn’t the content of the BRIT. It is an expression of goodwill for Pinchas’ act of zealotry. So that the verse could be translated: I grant him My pact of friendship.

I prefer the approach of most other commentaries that God did, indeed, grant something specific called BRIT SHALOM. So, now the problem, which Rashi avoided, is what is the content of this unique BRIT?

The most fascinating answer, I believe, is that of the Targum Yonatan ben Uziel. This Midrashic ‘translation’ states: Swearing by My Own Name, I say to him, Behold, I decree to him My covenant of peace, and will make him an angel of the covenant, that he may ever live, to announce the Redemption at the end of the days.

In other words, the BRIT SHALOM contains all the promises which make Pinchas the mystery man of Jewish history. This expression of the BRIT introduces the real question, namely, what is SHALOM? Apparently, this Targum believes that SHALOM is related to eternity. Fascinating.

Multiple times daily we conclude our SHMONEH ESREH, AMIDA prayer with a request that God should bless us with peace. This often follows the BICHAT COHANIM, which is also sealed with a request for the bestowal of SHALOM. But I never felt that I was asking to live forever. Therefore, I think that we must look elsewhere for our definition of BRIT SHALOM.

Rebbe Nachman (Likutei Moharan 33) seems to say that SHALOM is a lack of disagreement (MACHLOKET). But this harmony isn’t just between the members of my household and the people I encounter. It is a harmonious blending of the varying aspects of my own self, my mind, my body, my soul. All my various parts have a way to unite into an entity at existential peace with itself.

This also works with the last line of KADDISH, when we declare: Make peace on high. The idea is that SHALOM is reconciliation between disparate parts, like different heavenly forces. Both at the end of the AMIDA and the KADDISH (our two most famous prayers) we beg God to bestow peace. After all the strife in the world, we beseech God to, please, grant the peace and tranquility which we so desperately need in this strife filled world.

Rav Soloveitchik observed that we seek this SHALOM through God because, ‘In God, there is no dichotomy. All opposites are resolved. In Him, thesis and antithesis merge into one, in Him there is only harmony and peace…(we pray) that man himself may achieve this same harmony.’

It’s marvelous to note that God granted this sublime boon to Pinchas, but how do we endeavor to achieve this amazing level of sublime existence? Remember, our prayers are for God’s blessings which are aids to our efforts, rather than magic charms. So, Rav Kook noted this need in his commentary on the Siddur: We are striving for a unity of all existence not readily available in the worlds. This unity can only come about through the Torah…Through the ‘light of Your face (KI B’OHR PANECHA)’ was the given Torah, which is the Divine plan for integrating and unifying all Creation.

Pinchas displayed remarkable bravery and confidence that he knew exactly what must be done to move the Jewish people in the right direction. God agreed with his decision, and in turn granted him this amazing gift which we all desire. For us acquiring this boon called Shalom requires a lifetime of effort, and can only be attained using the Torah as the guide.

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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