לכן אמור הנני נותן לו בריתי שלום, והיתה לו ולזרעו אחריו ברית כהונת עולם תחת אשר קנא לאלקיו ויכפר אל בני ישראל.
“Therefore you shall say, I am giving him My covenant of peace, and it will be for him and his offspring after him, a covenant of Priesthood forever, because he stood up for his G-d and atoned for the Jewish people.” (Bamidbar 25)
Hashem rewarded Pinchas twofold: He gave him a covenant of peace, and He designated Pinchas and all of his future descendants as Kohanim (Priests). Why did Pinchas receive two rewards for a single act of courage? Hashem always repays people according to their deeds. How are these two rewards comparative to Pinchas’ praiseworthy act of defending Hashem’s honor?
The verse begins with Hashem’s statement “I am giving,” but then it says, “it will be for him,” as if Pinchas is taking it for himself. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 21:1) comments on this verse: “For it is justified that he should take his reward.” This seems to contradict Hashem’s words that He will be the one giving the reward to Pinchas, instead of Pinchas taking it for himself.
To understand this, we must first explore the concept of rewards for mitzvahs. The Gemara says (Kiddushin 39b): “The reward for a mitzvah does not exist in this world,” because the reward for even a single mitzvah is much greater than what can be experienced on earth. If so, how is it possible to receive rewards in this life for mitzvahs performed, as we see with Pinchas? Furthermore, we know that if a person does receive a reward in this world for the mitzvahs he performed, then his reward in the next world is reduced. An example of this is the story of Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa (Tanis 25a), who lived in extreme poverty. His wife begged him to pray for a better livelihood, and when he did, Rebbe Chanina miraculously received a gold table-leg from Heaven. The next day, his wife dreamed as if they were in Gan Eden and all righteous people are seated at three-legged, gold tables, but their table is missing a leg. She asked her husband to return the leg to Heaven, because she realized that by having it in this world, she is taking away from her portion in the world to come.
Still, we do see that tzaddikim are sometimes rewarded for their good deeds even in this world. The Yetev Lev explains this concept with the words of the Mishna: “These are the things for which a person eats its fruits in this world, and the principal remains complete for him in the Afterworld.” The Mishna lists a number of mitzvahs for which a person does receive some reward in this world. This is because mitzvahs are like assets that increase in value. The dividends are sometimes given to the person in this world, while the principal of the mitzvah is kept intact for the next world. The Rambam explains that these worthy deeds that are listed in the Mishna are mitzvahs bein adam l’chaveiro – between man and his fellow man. Although the person will receive his reward for performing these mitzvahs in the world to come, he is entitled to receive some reward in this world for the part of the mitzvah that affects others in a positive way.
This is the meaning of the verse: “Because he stood up for his G-d and atoned for the Jewish people.” Pinchas performed a double-mitzvah; he stood up for Hashem’s honor and defended His holy Name, and at the same time he atoned for the Jewish people and halted the epidemic which came as punishment for the sins of the nation. This is why Pinchas deserved two rewards. Hashem’s covenant of peace was his reward for standing up for Hashem’s honor, and the Priesthood was his reward for atoning for the Jewish people.
This is why the verse says that Hashem will give Pinchas his reward, and then it says that Pinchas will take it. Hashem will give him his well-deserved reward in the world to come, but at the same time Pinchas is entitled to take his reward in this world as well, for the part of his deed that affected his fellow Jews.
Our sages have said: “The righteous take with force.” This means that although regular people have no right to demand special rewards, those who are fully righteous and dedicate themselves completely to Hashem are entitled to take their reward, even if it is being held up.
There is a story about the Madar Rav zt”l, Rabbi Mordechai Yehuda, Known as the Levush Mordechai. A certain Rav from Russia came to visit him. As the Madar Rav served his guest breakfast, the two rabbis became engrossed in a Torah discussion, and the Madar Rav completely forgot to eat. During their discussion, the guest said: “I see that you remember all of Shas, the Rishonim and Achronim, but you forgot one Mordechai.” The Madar Rav asked, “Which statement of the Mordechai (one of the Rishonim) did I forget?” The guest smiled and said: “You are Mordechai, and you forgot to eat!” The Rav was implying that although tzaddikim don’t need anything for themselves and are only interested in serving Hashem, they do have to remember their physical needs and make sure to take in this world what is coming to them.
When Pinchas stood up to defend Hashem’s honor, he was prepared to be killed for his boldness. Yet he didn’t give a thought to himself and only had Hashem’s honor in mind when he decided to act. Such a person is entitled to take for himself a reward for his deed. This is so because he was fully prepared to die, and therefore it is counted as if he did indeed give up his life for Hashem. In that case, he may already take from the reward that is waiting for him after death.
The verse says, “I [Hashem] will give him My covenant of peace.” However, even if I would not give it to him, for any reason, it would still “be for him and his offspring” because he is entitled to take a reward, which is why the Midrash comments that Pinchas is justified to take for himself his due reward.
There is a story about Rebbe Berish Zidichover zt”l, a grandson of the tzaddik Rebbe Eisik’l of Zidichov. Rebbe Berish was ill and his son-in-law, the Chakal Yitzchok of Spinka zt”l, came to visit him. The son-in-law said: “It is now the month of Nissan, when we are surrounded by yeshuos. Tzaddikim have said that even a person who doesn’t deserve a yeshua can be helped in this month, because he can ‘borrow’ a yeshua from Hashem.” Rebbe Berish became upset and said: “I do not want to borrow a yeshua. I deserve to be healed!” We see from this that a truly great tzaddik is entitled to demand his reward.
In this week’s sidra we read about the karbanos – sacrifices. The word karbanos is from the root word that means “close.” The sacrifices were a means of getting close to Hashem.
In physics, there is always the same distance between two items. For example, if there is cup and a fork on the table, there will always be the same distance from the cup to the fork as from the fork to the cup. This is a simple fact that everyone can understand.
However, when it comes to spiritual matters, it is not like that. It says in Tehillim: “Hashem is close to all who call to Him.” Hashem is always close to every single Jew, but this doesn’t mean that we are equally close to Him. If we commit transgressions, then we become distanced from Hashem, while at the same time Hashem remains just as close to us as He was before.
The same is true about Hashem’s goodness to us. It says in the same chapter of Tehillim: “Hashem is good to everyone.” Hashem bestows blessings on us all the time, but if we are unworthy, these blessings cannot reach us, although Hashem keeps on sending them.
By reading the chapter of karbanos, we become closer to Hashem. This enables us to benefit from the many blessings that Hashem keeps on sending to us. May Hashem help that we should merit the fulfillment of the verse: “And all of these blessings will come to you, and it will reach you.”