וידבר ה' אל משה לאמר, פינחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן השיב את חמתי מעל בני ישראל בקנאו את קנאתי בתוכם ולא כליתי את בני ישראל בקנאתי.
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Pinchos the son of Elozer the son of Aharon HaKohen placated My anger on the Jewish People by avenging My vengeance among them, and I did not annihilate the Jewish People with My vengeance.” (Bamidbar 25:11)
Rashi asks why the Torah details Pinchus’ lineage, and explains: “Because the tribes humiliated him… therefore the Torah lists his lineage up to Aharon.”
This explanation is a bit difficult to understand. Everyone knew that Pinchus was Aharon’s grandson, yet they still humiliated him. How would listing his lineage help? What is the significance of the possuk linking Pinchus to his grandfather?
This coming week will be the yartzeit of the tzaddik Reb Yehoshua of Tomoshov zt”l. A person once came to Reb Yehoshua and poured out his heart to him about a serious problem he was having. He was a timber merchant who had recently purchased a few large forests in a certain area. He then discovered that the forests were infested with worms that ate away at the trees, destroying them completely. He already hired a team of workers to clean the forests from these pests, but they were fighting a losing battle. As much as they cleaned, new colonies of worms were always discovered.
Reb Yehoshua listened earnestly and then he took a clean sheet of paper. He wrote a few words, folded up the paper and placed it in an envelope. He handed it to the timber merchant, saying, “Place this at the edge of the forest and keep it there as long as necessary. Afterwards, return the letter to me.”
The merchant did what the Rebbe told him. He placed the envelope at the edge of the forest and returned home. He went to sleep thinking to himself: who knows how many months it will take for this letter to work, and for the forests to be cleaned?
Early the next morning, the merchant was awakened by loud banging on his window. He found his workers there, talking excitedly. When they went to work that morning, they told him, they saw large piles of dead worms at the edge of the forest, and the entire forest was completely clean! “There’s nothing for us to do there anymore,” they declared.
Overjoyed, the merchant took the letter back to the Rebbe, as he was instructed. He told everyone in the Rebbe’s court about the miracle. Reb Yehoshua then opened the letter and showed everyone the three simple words he had written on the sheet of paper: “Yosef ben Pesha.” This was the name of the Rebbe’s father.
Why did the Rebbe write his father’s name? He could have written the names of much greater tzaddikim in whose merit the miracle could have taken place. However, the real secret behind the miracle was not just the merit of the name on the letter; it was the merit of following in one’s father’s ways! When a son follows his father, he merits salvation. When the Rebbe wrote his father’s name, he demonstrated his attachment to his father’s ways and declared that he didn’t change from that direction.
This is similar to what chazal say about Yosef haTzaddik (Sotah 36b) who visualized his father’s countenance and this gave him the strength to stay away from sin. Our holy tzaddikim taught us that this protection from sin exists even if the father is not as great as Yakov Avinu. Adhering to the ways of the fathers is in itself the greatest protection. When a person faces a challenge by the yetzer hara, he should visualize his own father’s face, even if his father was a simple person, and this will give him strength to overcome the yetzer hara.
This is why the Torah lists Pinchus’ lineage, linking him to his father and grandfather. It is a testimonial that Pinchus adhered to their ways, and that he didn’t deviate from their path of righteousness. With the Torah declaring his connection to his saintly ancestors, the tribes respected Pinchus and stopped humiliating him.