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Parashat Pinchas 5758-1998
Pinchas: A Midrashic View
Rabbi Dr. Yehoshua Rabinowitz
The identification of Pinchas with Elijah, by means of the known Agaddic statement that "Pinchas is Elijah," is an attempt by some of the Sages to describe the mysterious figure of the prophet. Not only does Elijah appear and disappear for those who are worthy, also his Pinchas-like traits and behavior are just as enigmatic, two mysteries remaining for every one that is solved. We shall try to obtain a glimpse into the character of Pinchas through several Midrashim of the Sages. Some of the homilies cite a verse from the Prophets or the Hagiographa (Ketuvim), and then use the phrase "this is Pinchas," to identify Pinchas with the personality or character traits which emerge from that verse, sometimes in comparison to other figures and sometimes on its own. The following homily weaves together several passages from Proverbs, and using Midrashic modes of exegesis, brings testimony to his character from the mouth of God Himself:
This midrash contrasts the figure of Pinchas with two other major figures in the same story: Zimri and Moses. R. Jose and his colleagues view Scripture as being brief in certain places--such as the story in our Parasha--and providing a greater wealth of insight in other places--such as the Hagiographa. This midrash reflects the idea that the Prophets and Hagiographa are like the Oral Torah in that they shed light on obscure passages in the Five Books of Moses. The Sages undertook the task of explicating verses from Scripture, shedding light on personalities and events from the distant past, from the birth of the Jewish nation in the wilderness. Using phrases such as, "Solomon was referring to him," "Moses said," "the Holy One, blessed be He, knew," or even "Pinchas himself understood," which means what Pinchas himself was thinking, the Rabbis were able to enlarge upon the story and explain the background to God's statement in our chapter, what the Lord informed Moses through the words "Pinchas, son of Eleazar... has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me." Pinchas was ready to give his life to sanctify the Name, he did not pay respect to a Master, but prayed and saved the offspring of Abraham; therefore King Solomon could say of him, "Repute is preferable to great wealth."
The next midrash is an exegetical Midrash, meaning that it deals with the interpretation of the Torah verses itself, rather than constructing a homily around a particular idea, as did the previous Midrash (which is therefore of a homiletical type). It looks into several verses of Numbers that are more enigmatic than explicit:
Song of Songs Rabbah identifies a verse from Song of Songs, "You have captured my heart, my sister, my bride" (Song 4:9), with Pinchas: The Holy One, blessed be He, said, "You had one heart at Shittim, but you gave me two hearts. You have captured my heart with one [glance] of your eyes (ibid.), refers to Pinchas, as it is said (Ps. 106:30), Pinchas stepped forth and intervened, ... It was reckoned to his merit." Presumably the Midrash means that Pinchas was one of the "eyes of the community," a leader, and as the Rabbis taught, "the Merciful One desires the heart" or the devout sincerity of a person, which is what Pinchas gave.
Ecclesiastes Rabbah, in several alternatives which it presents for understanding a verse in Ecclesiastes, does not overlook Pinchas: "He who is pleasing to God escapes her (Eccles. 7:26) refers to Joseph; and he who is displeasing is caught by her (ibid.) refers to Potiphar. An alternative interpretation is that He who is pleasing refers to Pinchas, and he who is displeasing refers to Zimri." The midrash cited here is one of many that contrast figures from the Bible, by drawing parallels between diametrical opposites in Scriptures. Sometimes the Biblical text does not provide an explicit opposition, but the overall Scriptural context implies one and the Sages only formulate it concretely. This is illustrated by the following midrash:
The following midrash consists entirely of identification of biblical figures. It takes a certain text and word by word identifies the Patriarchs, some of the tribes and their offspring:
We conclude with the following midrash:
We began with the homily that identifies Pinchas with "The upright man discerns his course." "G-d made men plain [upright], but they have engaged in too much reasoning" (Eccles. 7:29). Pinchas remained upright from beginning to end. Although he began by reasoning or rationalizing to himself, he quickly reached the conclusion that a swift response is required to uphold the sanctity of G-d's name. In order to save the people of Israel one must not make lengthy preparations, rather one must intervene at once. Pinchas, remembering a teaching, acted zealously and stepped forth voluntarily; then many miracles were wrought for him. He served as the eye of the community, as the "pleasing one, who "stole and won" and who "never bore reproach for his neighbor," without favoring those close to him. He is the angel of the Lord who came up from Gilgal, and it is his revelation that we await in our day, for "Pinchas is Elijah." May he not only sit under the Tree of Life, chronicling the merits of Israel, but may he realize them speedily together with the coming of the Messiah. Amen.
 Cf. Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 47, and R. David Luzatto on same; Yalkut Shimoni, Pinchas, 771; Sotah 13a, and Rashi on same; also Rashi on Baba Metzia 114b, s.v. Lav Kohen Mar, where he says, "this is according to the opinion that Elijah is Pinchas."
 Berakhot 3a, Shabbat 109b, and elsewhere.
 Exodus Rabbah (Vilna ed.) Parasha 33, 5, s.v. davar aher, Va-yikhu..
 This calls to mind the words of the Talmud, Berakhot 19b: "One who finds sha`atnez in his garment is to take it off, even in the marketplace. Why? Because 'no wisdom, no prudence, and no counsel can prevail against the Lord.' Wherever there is profanation of the Name, one pays no respect to a Master."
 Zimri and Cozbi.
 Numbers Rabbah (Vilna) 20:26; cf. Midrash Tanhuma (Warsaw), Parshat Balak 21, s.v. Va-yar Pinchas.
 Song of Songs Rabbah (Vilna), 4, s.v. libavtini, 1(9).
 Meaning you had one mind to sin at Shittim, but Pinchas acted otherwise.
 Kohelet Rabbah (Vilna) 7, s. v. asher hi.
 Midrash Tanhuma (Buber), Parshat Va-Yeshev 13, s.v. va-yered Yehuda
 Midrash Tehillim (Buber), psalm 15, s.v. (6) davar aher.
 Midrash Tehillim (Buber), psalm 103, s.v. (17) barkhu Hashem.