Thursday, July 13, 2006

parshat Pinchas - Brit Kehunat Olam. What Exactly Did Pinchas Get? Also, how could Pinchas Kill Zimri?

Towards the beginning of Pinchas, we read {Bemidbar 25:13}:
יג וְהָיְתָה לּוֹ וּלְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו, בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם--תַּחַת, אֲשֶׁר קִנֵּא לֵאלֹהָיו, וַיְכַפֵּר, עַל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 13 and it shall be unto him, and to his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.'
This is somewhat strange, given that Pinchas is the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen. And all descendants of Aharon are also kohanim {priests}. If so, Pinchas should already be a kohen, so why is he being appointed one now?

The famous answer is given by Rashi, who in turn gets it from Zevachim 101b. Sure, kehuna is inherited, and so all sons born to Aharon and Eleazar will also be kohanim. But the appointment of Aharon and Eleazar was done after Pinchas' birth. All sons born after they are appointed will indeed be kohanim. But Pinchas, being born before this, is not born into the priesthood.

Thus, Pinchas eludes the kehuna under a grandfather clause, of sorts.

Wouldn't we expect the same to be true for the Levites. This too is an inherited positions, so anyone not numbered and appointed should not be a levite. Would this indeed be so? Well, this is sort of irrelevant, but perhaps not, given that if we look at the counting and appointing of the Levites in place of the firstborns in Bemidbar 3, we see that are counted not from the age of 20 and up, but rather from one month and on. (Perhaps because earlier that that is considered a safek that it might end up a nefel?) Yet, for those under one month -- and why specify, if there were none? -- did they become Leviim? Did their children inherit Leviiteness?

Anyhow, this is the somewhat midrashic answer to the problem of the introduction of berit kehunat olam.

Meanwhile, Ibn Ezra, Ralbag, and Shadal all claim that the peshat in the pasuk is different. Namely, that what is being given here is the High Priesthood, kehuna gedola. All future High Priests will be descendants of Pinchas.

Shadal writes:

לפי הפשט הכוונה כדעת ראב"ע ורלב"ג שהכהנים הגדולים יהיו מזרעו, ועיין רלב"ג

Indeed, the Sifrei mentions the various kohanim gedolim in the first and second Bet HaMikdash, who all were descendants of Pinchas.

Now, we shall not be like certain ursine bloggers who throw a hissy-fit every time they discover that, in elementary school, they were only exposed to the midrash-based Rashi and not to an alternate peshat. No. Instead, we will lean back in our chair and admire the two approaches to resolving the textual difficulty.

On a related note, there is an interesting question in Daat Zekenim miBaalei haTosafot: How could Pinchas kill Zimri? If he killed him in the tent, would he not become ritually impure?

One could easy dismiss the very premise of the question, of course. People were dying left and right in the plague, and the slaying of Zimri stopped it. Sometimes certain commandments and prohibitions are set aside for cases of emergency. If Pinchas saw someone killing another in a cemetery, could he intervene? Of course! Plus, consider my post from last year claiming, based on pesukim, that Pinchas' act was not that of a zealot, but rather the fulfillment of a direct command of Moshe, mentioned in a pasuk (see Did Pinchas Act On His Own Initiative?). Being a kohen should not have caused a problem.

Yet, Daat Zekeinim suggests, based on Rashi, that since Pinchas was not yet a kohen, he did not need to worry about becoming ritually impure.

(Pop quiz for those interested in the issue Midrashic literalism: Does Daat Zekeinim consider this Rashi to be literal or allegorical?)

Daat Zekeinim gives an alternative suggestion: A goses, one at death's door, does not render one ritually impure. So Zimri was a goses until Pinchas left the tent.

Indeed, Targum Pseudo-Yonatan lists Zimri not dying as the eleventh of many miracles that happened in the Pinchas incident. (The gemara in Sanhedrin daf 82 only lists 6, and thus is not among them.)


Josh M. said...

According to the interpretation of the Ibn Ezra,, how did Eili, a descendant of Itamar, become kohein gadol? Even if he was gadol b'doro, this shouldn't be a reason to suspend the covenant promised to Pinchas.

Anonymous said...

"Now, we shall not be like certain ursine bloggers who throw a hissy-fit every time they discover..."

Nice. I believe I was the first to use that expression to refer to that oisvorf in that way.

I was also wondering how one resolves the 'Elli is from Itamar' issue.

Also worth noting is that the Rambam in hilchos Talmud Torah uses the possuk from Parshas Pinchas, about Pinchas, as his scriptural source for Kesser Kehunah!

joshwaxman said...

It's a good question. I'll see if Ibn Ezra or a supercommentary resolves this.

Interestingly, the Samaritans claim that Eli actually grabbed the High Piesthood for himself at this point, because the next in line of Pinchas-descended priests, Uzi ben Baki, was too young at the time. And that this was the cause of the split-off of the Samaritans, with Uzi being kohen gadol on Har Grizim. (Uzi ben Baki is mentioned in Divrei HaYamim 1 5:31 and in Ezra 7:4.)

perhaps there is reason for exception to the rule, or perhaps one can find exception to the reasoning that claims that Eli was a descendant of Itamar. That reasoning is connection of several pesukim, which seems pretty solid:

התייחס לבני איתמר בן אהרן הכהן: אחיטוב אחי אי כבוד בן פנחס בן עלי (ש"א י"ד ג), ואביתר היה בן אחימלך בן אחיטוב (שם כ"ב כ'); אחימלך היה מבני איתמר (דהי"א כ"ד ג)


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