Kenneth Cohen

Zealots Can’t Lead

It is often mentioned that there is a great similarity between Pinchas and Eliyahu Hanavi. There are even opinions that Pinchas was Eliyahu, as they shared the same soul.

The common feature between these two great men, is that they acted zealously on behalf of Hashem. They both demonstrated that they did not care what others thought of them. They only cared about defending Hashem’s honor.

Pinchas killed Zimri and Kozbi, who openly desecrated the Name of G-d. Eliyahu challenged the false prophets of Baal, single-handedly. Despite their great enthusiasm and courage, they were not put in positions of extended leadership of the Jewish people. Pinchas needed confirmation from G-d that he acted correctly. Eliyahu Hanavi was told to hand over the reigns of leadership to Elisha.

The lesson here is that there is certainly place for Jewish zealots. The acts of Pinchas and Eliyahu saved the Jewish people from catastrophe. But their actions were difficult for the masses to comprehend. They could not relate to such individuals that were on such a high level. Therefore, Elisha replaced Eliyahu and Pinchas was, at first, shunned by his people.

We see from later in the Parsha how careful Moshe was, in describing the character traits of his successor. He needed to be someone with understanding, and the ability to relate to all of the people. How we long for such leaders today!

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at