“An eternal covenant of priesthood.”

(Numbers 25:13)
Tammuz 19, 5770/July 1, 2010

"Pinchas the son of Eleazar the son of Aharon the priest has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me (kin’o et kin’ati) among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal (bekin’ati)." (Numbers 25:11) The Hebrew word kin’a is used three times in the verse in which G-d describes to Moshe Rabbenu, (Moses our Master), just what has taken place before his very eyes. But if Moshe himself witnessed Pinchas’ act of zeal, why is G-d explaining it to him? Our sages teach us that G-d is testifying on Pinchas’ behalf, as there were those among the children of Israel who questioned his motivation as being perhaps less than pure. After all, on one side his grandfather was an alleged idolater with bloodthirsty tendencies. Perhaps violence was just an ingrained part of Pinchas’ nature. But G-d, by tracing Pinchas’ lineage to Aharon the High Priest, who was known and revered universally by all of Israel for his steadfast outpouring of love and kindness for his brethren, puts an end to the evil speculation. Pinchas acted, as G-d bears witness, not out of violence, but out of an overwhelming love for his fellow Israelites. For by avenging G-d he removed G-d’s wrath from the children of Israel, a wrath that would have proven far more difficult to endure.

But by mentioning kin’a – defined by Rashi as veangence – three times, G-d is also paying testimony to the entire tribe of Levi, of which Pinchas is a scion. In three different generations the tribe of Levi is described by Torah as having stood up and taken an unequivocal stand for Israel and for G-d. The first time takes place in the book of Genesis, chapter 34, in which Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov and the sister of Levi, is violated by Shechem, the prince of the city of the same name, who then approaches Yaakov to arrange for Dinah’s hand in marriage. Yaakov and his sons work out an agreement with Shechem and his father Chamor, but Levi and his brother Shimon are left seething. Secretly they plot to avenge their sister’s honor, and they do so, slaughtering the men of Schechem and taking Dinah back.

The second incident mentioned by Torah is the debacle of the golden calf, around which the children of Israel were frolicking when Moshe returned from the mountain with the two tablets of Torah in his hands. After Moshe cast down the two tablets and broke up the wicked assembly, he called "’Whoever is for HaShem, [let him come] to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him." (Exodus 32:26) So for the second time, in a moment of national crisis, when cool, not hot-headed thinking was required, it was Levi who acted without hesitation.

And now for the third time in Israel’s history, a son of Levi measures up to the moment, where the fate of the entire nation is hanging in the balance, and does what needs to be done to assuage G-d’s wrath and to return honor to G-d and dignity to His people.

Little wonder then, that G-d declares for all Israel to hear, "I hereby give him My covenant of peace." (Numbers 25:12) For Levi has thrice proven his devotion to G-d. And furthermore, this devotion, while three times being expressed in seemingly violent acts, is understood by G-d, as explained above, as being rooted in loving-kindness – chesed. And it naturally follows that G-d reconfirms that "It shall be for him [Pinchas] and for his descendants after him [as] an eternal covenant of priesthood, because he was zealous for his G-d and atoned for the children of Israel." (ibid 25:13) For who would better serve as a mediator between G-d and His children than a bloodline defined by their love for their people and the gentleness of their character.

Throughout the entire book of Leviticus, which describes in detail the various types of offerings to be offered in the Holy Temple and the manner in which they are to be offered, the four letter name of G-d, the tetragrammaton, is used exclusively. This four letter name always denotes G-d’s attribute of chesed – loving-kindness. How odd, we may think, after all, isn’t there a fundamental element of cruelty embodied within the service of the offerings, and yet the name of G-d denoting His loving-kindness is being invoked? On the contrary. Not only is the avodat ha korbanot – the service of the offerings in the Holy Temple, rooted solely in G-d’s expression of loving kindness towards His creation, but only the sons of Levi, who have three times proven that they act exclusively out of loving kindness, can be entrusted with the performance of the Divine service in the Holy Temple, meriting the "eternal covenant of priesthood."
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