Parshat Pinchas contains a very counter-intuitive event. Pinchas has just killed Kozbi and Zimri as they are cohabiting, for which Hashem now rewards him: “Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the Priest, returned my anger....therefore I am granting him My covenant of peace" (Bemidbar 25:11). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines peaceful as “devoid of violence or force.” It does not seem like Pinchas’ actions meet these criteria at all! How is such a promise deemed a proper reward for Pinchas? Why is he given a “Covenant of Peace” when he has done what many would consider to be the ultimate act of violence?
The Netziv relates that Hashem rewarded Pinchas that his act of murder would have no permanent effect on him. The Netziv points out that everything one does has an effect on person whether he knows it or not, whether for the good or for the bad; however, Hashem assured Pinchas that He would not let the killing have an effect on him, since he did it purely LeShem Shamayim. R’ Aharon Kotler ZT’’L comments that the word peace is often misinterpreted as it was above by Merriam-Webster. In actuality, it means doing what is necessary to attain such a lack of violence or force. Yes, Pinchas may have committed an act of bloodshed, but ultimately he brought about “peace” between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael and stopped the plague from devastating the camp.
Most of us, however, are not Pinchas, and most of us do not do every action LeShem Shamayim. What we do makes a strong impression on us and the rest of our lives, and we do not have Hashem’s promise that it will not have such an effect. Now, as the summer approaches, many us will be exposed to new things and try activities that we would not otherwise do during the regular course of the year. This often leads people to believe that since they are out of their regular environment, what they do may not affect them. However, says the Netziv, this is not true. Bad choices affect us and our personalities in negative ways. Had Pinchas not been granted this Bracha by Hashem, his murder of Kozbi and Zimri would have affected him detrimentally too, which is why it was so necessary for Hashem to assure him this would not be the case.
A friend of mine was talking with a graduating senior who expressed concerns regarding the year of Torah study in Israel, worried about the “flipping out” and the “brainwashing” that might occur. However, as one of my Rabbeim, Rabbi Wiener, often likes to point out, it is not that one gets brainwashed in the year of Torah study in Israel, but rather that being in an environment where everyone is learning and spending time doing Mitzvot has a tremendously positive effect on a person. Our choices affect us, whether for better or worse. We must make sure to make the right decisions to better our lives and bring about peace.
And someone call the folks at Webster’s; their dictionary is in need of some revamping.