The Zealot’s Reward

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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In this week’s parshah, we learn about the reward claimed by Pinchas for his zealotry in defending Hashem’s honor: “Behold, I grant him My covenant of peace.”  Rashi explains that Pinchas justly earned his reward.[1]

What does Rashi mean to add?  Is it not obvious that Pinchas deserved reward for fulfilling this important mitzva, in which he sanctified the Name of Heaven, and prevented a plague that could have destroyed the Jewish nation?  Although Beis Din cannot issue an order to strike down a Jewish man who takes a non-Jewish woman,[2] it is nonetheless a mitzva for a self-inspired zealot to do so.  Why then need Rashi explain that Pinchas justly deserved his reward for this mitzva?

As we explained elsewhere,[3] zealotry is a mitzva only if it is conducted with total purity of intent; inspired by mercy and love, and not the slightest modicum of anger.  In this extremely delicate circumstance, in which life must be taken without the explicit permission of Beis Din, purity of intent is of the utmost importance.

Rabbeinu Peretz, a co-author of Tosefos, writes in the name of Rav Yitzchak of Korbil:


ההורג צריך שיזהר מאבק שלהם כי אם ח"ו יכשל ההורגים בעבירה כיוצא בהם יחשב לו אותו נהרג לדם נקי וראיה מיהוא שנענש מדמי בית אחאב אע"פ שציוה לו הנביא להרגם לפי שנכשל בעבירה של בית אחאב.


An executioner must guard himself against the slightest trace of sin, since if he is guilty of the same sins for which he kills his victim, he is considered to have spilled innocent blood.  This was the case of King Yehu, who was punished for eradicating the House of Achav, even though he was commanded by a Prophet to do so.  Nevertheless, since he was guilty of sins similar to those of Achav, he was considered a murderer.[4]


Killing a would-be murderer to protect his victim is not only permitted, it is absolutely required.[5]   Anyone who has the ability to kill an assailant to save his victim’s life, but refrains from doing so, violates three distinct mitzvos, as the Rambam writes.[6]  Nevertheless, if the protector is guilty of the same sins, he will be held accountable for murdering the assailant.

Our Sages tell us that any Torah scholar who does not avenge himself like a snake, is not a true Torah scholar.[7]  Whereas other dangerous animals bite to satisfy their hunger, a snake takes no pleasure in biting its victim.[8]  So, too, when a Torah scholar strikes to avenge his own honor and that of the Torah which he embodies, he must be like a snake, who takes no pleasure in doing so.  His intention must be purely for the sake of Heaven, rather than for any personal benefit at all.

Vengeance is essentially a base and sinful trait, against which the Torah warns us: “Do not take vengeance, and do not bear a grudge.”[9]  However, there are circumstances in which vengeance is required in order to uphold the honor of Heaven and wage war against those who would disparage the Torah and the scholars who represent it.  Nevertheless, if while fighting these “Wars of Heaven,” one’s thoughts are tainted by concern for his own personal honor, he is held liable for transgressing the prohibition of “Do not take vengeance, and do not bear a grudge.”[10]

The Gemara advises us to perform mitzvos and study Torah even with impure intent, since this will ultimately lead us to perform and study with pure intent.[11]  However, this is not true of aveiros.  Even when it is permitted to perform an aveira, such as killing, to uphold the honor of Heaven, there is absolutely no license to do so with impure intent.  Only the noblest sentiment can purify a sin that would otherwise be too heinous to contemplate.  Therefore, the Gemara states that an aveirah performed with pure intent is credited like a mitzva performed with impure intent.[12]  Unlike a mitzva, the “aveirah” of zealotry is justified only by the noble intent with which it is conducted.

Some criticized Pinchas’s zealotry, saying, “Have you seen this son of Puti, whose maternal grandfather fattened calves for idolatry?  He has slain the Prince of a Tribe of Israel!”[13]  At first glance, this criticism seems entirely baseless.  What relevance does Pinchas’s lineage have to the worthiness of his deeds?

It seems that Pinchas’s critics accused him of killing Zimri with ignoble motives.  Since his grandfather was once an idolater, surely this left its mark on his family, tainting them with unworthy motives.  Therefore, they highly doubted that he could become a pure, avenging angel capable of killing with no thought of personal gain.

To assuage their suspicions, the possuk charts his lineage to Aharon HaKohen, who was renowned for his love of mankind and his efforts to promote peace among families and friends.[14]  Pinchas was a true scion of Aharon, who acted purely out of love and mercy to avenge Hashem’s disgrace and thereby bring peace to the Jewish people.  For this reason, Rashi assures us that he justly earned his reward, since his zealotry was untainted by any thought of hatred or personal gain.


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The Mishna states: “These are the things for which man enjoys fruits of reward in this world, while the principle reward remains intact in the World to Come: honoring parents, acts of kindness … bringing peace between friends. And Torah study is equal to them all.”[15]

The Rambam writes in his commentary to the Mishna:


כי המצוות כולן נחלקין בתחילה על שני חלקים, החלק האחד במצוות המיוחדות לאדם בנפשו במה שיש בינו ובין הקדוש ברוך הוא כגון ציצית ותפילין ושבת ועכו"ם, והחלק השני במצוות התלויות בתועלת בני אדם קצתם עם קצתם... כשיעשה האדם המצוות המיוחדות לנפשו מה שיש בינו ובין בוראו יגמלהו הקב"ה עליה לעולם הבא, וכשיעשה האדם המצוות התלויות בתועלת בני אדם זה עם זה כמו כן תחשב לו לצדקה לעוה"ב לפי שעשה המצוות, וימצא טובה בעולם הזה בעבור שנהג מנהג הטוב בין בני אדם.


The mitzvos are divided into two categories.  The first category includes mitzvos that are specifically directed towards man’s soul and his relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, such as tzitzis, tefillin, Shabbos, and the prohibition against idolatry.  The second category includes mitzvos by which people benefit one another… When a person performs a mitzva for his own soul, to enhance his relationship with his Creator, he is rewarded in the World to Come.  When he performs a mitzva to benefit others, he is also rewarded in the World to Come, since this is also a mitzva.  In addition, he is rewarded in this world too, for promoting the welfare of mankind.


When Pinchas avenged Hashem’s honor, he enhanced his relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu; but he also promoted the welfare of the Jewish people by atoning for their sins.  Therefore, he earned reward both in this world and in the World to Come.

This is another insight into Rashi’s explanation that Pinchas justly earned his reward.  He earned a double reward, whose dividends were enjoyed in this world, while the principle remained intact for him in the World to Come.



[1] Bamidbar 25:12.

[2] Sanhedrin 82

[3] See Minchas Asher: Sichos, p. 321

[4] Commentary on the Smag, 83

[5] Sanhedrin 73a

[6] Hilchos Rotzei’ach 1:15

[7] Yoma 23a

[8] Erchin 15b

[9] Vayikra 19:18

[10] Vayikra 19:18

[11] Pesachim 50b

[12] Nazir 23b

[13] Rashi, Bamidbar 25:11

[14] ibid

[15] Pei’ah 1:1