Which two sins did Pinchos rectify?
(25,11) “Pinchos the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen has turned away My anger from the Children of Yisrael, when he avenged My vengeance amongst them and I did not destroy the Children of Yisrael in My vengeance. Therefore, say: I hereby give to him My covenant of peace. And it shall be for him and for his descendants after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he was jealous for his G-d and atoned for the Children of Yisrael.”
The explanation of these posukim is that when Yisrael sinned with the daughters of Midian they committed two sins besides the actual sin of forbidden relationships. The first was that the others did not see fit to avenge Hashem, and the second was that they did not protest against the sinners. Therefore, when Pinchos came and killed Zimri, he rectified these two sins - he took vengeance on the sinners and also rectified their sin of not protesting, because it was sufficient that there was found amongst Yisrael one man who protested.
This is what these posukim are saying, that Pinchos did these two things. First, he “turned away My anger from the Children of Yisrael when he avenged My vengeance amongst them” - he avenged My requirement to punish the wicked, and therefore “I hereby give to him My covenant of peace”. And secondly “it shall be for him and his descendants after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he was jealous for his G-d and atoned for the Children of Yisrael” - Pinchos also rectified their sin of not being jealous for their G-d. Therefore, he deserves reward also for this. With this explanation, many of the questions that the commentaries have asked have been answered.
How did the first sons of Pinchos also become Kohanim?
(25,11) “Pinchos the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen has turned away My anger from the Children of Yisrael, when he avenged My vengeance amongst them and I did not destroy the Children of Yisrael in My vengeance. Therefore, say: I hereby give to him My covenant of peace. And it shall be for him and for his descendants after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he was zealous for his G-d and atoned for the Children of Yisrael.”
Although Rashi explains the words בקנאו את קנאתי as meaning "when he avenged My vengeance", that is, when he did the deed of taking vengeance, the actual translation is “when he was jealous for My jealousy”, that is, when he hated that which Hashem hates. On this the Alshich asked why the posuk mentions only his thoughts and not his deed?
It seems to me that we can give a very good answer to this question, because Hashem wanted Pinchos’s reward of priesthood to include not only himself and his future offspring, but also his sons that he had already. Therefore it writes “and for his descendants after him”, which implies all his descendants. But the Holy Zohar teaches that when Pinchos killed Zimri his soul flew away, and the souls of Nadav and Avihu entered him in its place. The Alshich explains that this why the Torah refers to him as “Pinchos the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen”, that is, he was the son of Elazar, but became the son of Aharon.
Now, the reward which Hashem gives is only for the soul, because the body has no power to do either good or evil without the soul. Therefore, even in this world the reward is only given to the soul and not to the body. But if so, when Pinchos killed Zimri he already did not have his original soul, and so granted the offspring that were born after that event came from the souls of Nadav and Avihu, and so they could be included in the reward of prisethiood, but the sons that were born when he had his first soul have no connection to the souls of Nadav and Avihu. So how could his earlier sons merit to be Kohanim if his first soul did not do the deed for which he was rewarded?
But Chazal teach that if a person decides to do a mitzvah but is unable to perform it due to adverse circumstances, the Torah accredits it to him as if he had performed it. Therefore, since Pinchos had already thought about and decided to take vengeance for Hashem whilst he had his first soul, even though his soul subsequently departed the Torah accredited it to him as if he had done the deed. Thus even his first offspring merited to be Kohanim, because the soul of the son is like a branch from the soul of the father.
Therefore Hashem said, “Pinchos the son of Elazar…turned away My anger…when he was jealous for My jealously”, that is, even with his thoughts, as the Alshich wrote. Therefore, “I hereby give to him My covenant of peace, and it shall be for him and for his descendants after him” - all his descendants, even the earlier ones. And thus Hashem concludes, “because he was jealous for his G-d” - with his thoughts alone, “and atoned for the children of Yisrael”. This answers the question of the Alshich.
Why was Pinchos rewarded in this world for his deed?
(25,11) “Pinchos the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the Kohen has turned away My anger from the Children of Yisrael, when he avenged My vengeance amongst them and I did not destroy the Children of Yisrael in My vengeance. Therefore, say: I hereby give to him My covenant of peace.”
The Midrash says on the posuk “Pinchos the son of Elazar…” that he justifiedly deserved to receive a reward, and therefore Hashem said “I hereby give to him My covenant of peace”. This Midrash is a puzzle, and the commentaries have written about it at length.
But it seems to me that we can explain it by noting that even though Chazal taught that one who does a mitzvah that he has been commanded to do is greater then one who has does a mitzvah that he has not been commanded to do, in one respect the one who has been commanded is inferior. We see this from the gemora which says on the posuk in Iyov 41;3 “Who preceded Me, that I should pay?” - Does a person affix a mezuzah before I have given him a house? Does he make tzitzis before I have given him a garment? The gemora is saying that therefore he does not by rights deserve a reward for doing the mitzvah.
But this argument is only applicable to somebody who has been commanded to do these mitzvos, and therefore Hashem gives him a house for the purpose of affixing a mezuzah or a garment so that he can make tzitzis. But someone who has not been commanded in a certain mitzvah, even though Hashem gives him the necessary means to do the mitzvah He does not expect from the person that he should do with it a mitzvah, and thus if he does so voluntarily he justifiedly deserves a reward. I also found this idea clearly expressed in the sefer Parshas Derachim.
Now, even though the law is that a zealous person can kill another who is involved in a forbidden relationship under certain circumstances, nevertheless, it says in the gemora in Sanhedrin 82a that if Zimri had instead killed Pinchos he would have been exempt from the death penalty, because Pinchos was a pursuer. That is, he was subject to the law concerning one who pursues another in order to kill him, in which case the one being pursued is permitted to kill his pursuer. The Rosh explains that the reason why Pinchos was considered to be a pursuer is because this particular law is in the category of those laws which, although it is the law, one does not teach it. Therefore, Pinchos was not commanded to do this, and thus he justifiedly deserved to be rewarded.
Now, the Midrash that we brought in the beginning had a difficulty with Hashem’s statement “I hereby give to him My covenant of peace”, because Hashem does not normally give a reward for mitzvos immediately, that is, in this world. An additional difficulty is that we see that Moshe and Aharon turned away Hashem’s anger from Yisrael many times, and yet we don’t see that Hashem rewarded them here in this world. A further difficulty was asked by the Alshich - why doesn’t every Beis Din who kill those who are liable to the death penalty receive a reward like Pinchos?
But we can answer all these questions with what we have written above, that when a person does a mitzvah because he is commanded to do so he does not by rights deserve any reward. But nevertheless, Hashem rewards him out of charity, as a kindness. However, Hashem does not reward him in this world because it is not the appropriate place to give reward for mitzvos, as is explained elsewhere, and it is saved for the world to come.
But someone who does a mitzvah even though he is not commanded to do so justifiedly deserves a reward. Therefore, just as an employer cannot say to a worker who performs some work to go away and return tomorrow and then he will pay him, so too Hashem cannot push off the reward to the world to come, but rather He must pay it immediately. Therefore, since Pinchos was not commanded to put himself at risk of being killed by Zimri since the law that a zealous one can kill a sinner is a law which is not taught, he justifiedly deserved to be rewarded immediately, in this world.