In this week's Torah position, we learn more about Pinchas; is he a fanatic or zealot? Pinchas, as with most everything over time, has actions and intentions are viewed in different lights.
Pinchas, son of Elazar and grandson of Aharon acted with speed and might in the killing of both a fellow Jew and Midianite princess. The Parsha is explicit in naming both the Jew and Midianite women. Why? According to Rashi as described by Nechama Leibowitz "Zimri is identified in order to to bring more praise of Pinchas, because of his courage in killing Zimri a prince from the tribe of Simeon". Kozbi, the princess is identified to describe the hatred of the Jews by the Midianite people so much so that they would allow a King's daughter to prostitute herself for the destruction of the Jewish people.
Our Torah teaches us of two men who acted quite differently in times of sin by our people. Moses, when confronted by God regarding the golden calf, pleads on behalf of the people, and in fact request of Hashem that if He wipes out His people to wipe him out as well. Noah, when challenged by God, acts to save his family and the animals. We don't see the explicit act to save others or bargain with God for their redemption.
We look at situations in different times. Noah was a righteous man of his time. Does that make him a righteous person? Maybe, but possibly only because he was in a very bad time. Rashi comments that in Genesis 6.9 Noah was a righteous person of his time. According to Rashi Noah only cared about his family and the animals but not his fellow man. Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz Rosh Yeshiva at Meer Yeshiva wrote as his students were escaping the Holocaust, we call it "the flood of Noah" because of his lack of involvement. Had he pled for the sake of people, would God have destroyed everything with a flood? Would his actions have made him a zealot trying to save the world?
In this weeks Torah reading, we see that Pinchas acts with speed and reacts with might at the immorality of our people. His actions would be questioned even if he had asked the bet din for permission to kill both Kozbi and Zimri. In this case we know he never sought out Zimri to persuade him to repent for his actions and never allowed Kozbi and Zimri to desist in their behavior.
How does one know if he is doing the proper act of zealousness or not? According to Rabbi Yechiel Spero, the followers of Korach approached Moses to find out why certain individual's were singled out. Korach scoffed at Moses' leadership; the followers of Korach believed they acted for the nation of Israel.
There is a Midrash that teaches how Korach challenged the leadership of Moses. He challenged Moses leaderships with questions such as "If a man wears a complete blue garment would he still need threads of blue? (techalet on tallis or tzitzis) If a man has a house filled with sefarim "books of Jewish learning" would he still need mezuzot on the outside of his home? Moses was able to leave the challenge to God and not lower himself into a wasted argument.
According to Rabbi Yechiel Spero, he believes Pinchas was driven by "Kana'us" zealotry. Korach was driven by "Kinah" jealousy. Both words come from the same root but are driven from very different agendas. A jealous person is looking out for himself, and what he/she is entitled to, and what rewards are in store for them. A zealot thinks it is up to me alone. He/she believes the only matter is the honor of God.
Pinchas' actions are believed to soften the disdain God has for his chosen people as they act lascivious and he is rewarded for his actions with the covenant of peace.
What I find interesting is the interpretation from The Netziv (Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin) 1817-1893) as explained by Nechama Leibowitz that the covenant of peace was internal versus external. While others explain that the covenant of peace allowed Pinchas to escape the wrath of Zimri's relatives, she believes the idea was that God grant him internal peace and tranquility, and lessen his anger and short temper.
The Kotzker Rav makes a great point in questioning why in this Parsha 27:15 Moshe asks for God to appoint someone to lead the Israelite people to follow after him? According to the Kotzker Rav, Moshe had always felt Pinchas would be the next leader, but his apparent lack of faith in God and man proved to Moshe that Pinchas should not and could not be the leader into Eretz Yisrael.