Haftaras Pinchas

This year parashas Pinchas is read before the three weeks, and so we have the rare opportunity to read the selection from Sefer Melachim designated as the haftarah for parashas Pinchas. I take this opportunity to present a portion of the Maggid’s commentary on this haftarah. The haftarah reports an episode about Eliyahu HaNavi, in line with the teaching in the Midrash and the Zohar that Pinchas and Eliyahu are the same person.
The haftarah relates that Eliyahu, after fleeing from Izevel, traveled to Mount Sinai and spent the night in a cave there. Afterward, the word of Hashem came to him and asked him: “What are you doing here, Eliyahu?” Eliyahu replied (Melachim Alef 19:10): “I have acted with great zealousness for Hashem, God of Legions, for the Children of Yisrael have forsaken Your covenant; they have razed Your altars and killed Your prophets by the sword, so that I alone have remained, and now they seek to take my life.” Hashem then told Eliyahu to go out of the cave and stand on the mountain before Him, and He sent him a vision (ibid. 19:11-12): “A great and powerful wind went before Hashem, smashing mountains and breaking rocks. ‘Hashem is not in the wind!’ After the wind came an earthquake. ‘Hashem is not in the earthquake.’ After the earthquake came a fire. ‘Hashem is not in the fire.’ And after the fire, a still, small voice.”
The Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni, Nach 217 remarks that Eliyahu should have acted as a advocate for the Jewish People rather than as an accuser. The Midrash then reports an interchange between Hashem and Eliyahu, part of which is recorded in the haftarah. Hashem shows Eliyahu the vision, lets three hours pass, and then asks Eliyahu a second time why he is at the mountain. Eliyahu gives the same reply as before. Hashem then tells Eliyahu to annoint Elisha as a prophet, ultimately to serve as Eliyahu’s successor. In the end, Hashem tells Pinchas/Eliyahu: “You always act zealously. You acted zealously at Shittim on account of the Jewish People’s licentiousness, and now you act zealously again [on account of the Jewish People’s ceasing to practice circumcision]. By your life, every circumcision that the Jews perform, you will see with your own eyes!”
This Midrash is puzzling. It describes Hashem chastising Pinchas/Eliyahu for his zealousness, apparently charging him with repeating a misdeed. Yet, in our parashah, the Torah says explicitly that Hashem paid Pinchas/Eliyahu great reward for his zealous action at Shittim. Several times in the Bible and in Midrashim, Pinchas is praised for his action. So why now the criticism? And what is the meaning of the vision that Hashem showed Eliyahu?
The Maggid explains with a parable. A certain man’s only son got very sick, and he took him to a doctor for treatment. The doctor amputated the lad’s arm, and the lad then returned to health.  The father thanked the doctor and paid him his fee. Some time later, the lad got sick again, and the father took him back to the same doctor. The doctor gave the lad a drug to cause him to die. The father recognized the drug and he cried out: “You scoundrel! I brought my son to you so that you would heal him, not so that you would kill him! And now I see, looking back, that the first time you treated him, when you amputated his arm, you also meant to harm him. True, my son recovered from his illness, but evidently you wanted to turn him into a mutilated person. All along, your intent was to do him evil!”
The parallel is as follows. Previously, Eliyahu had declared (Melachim Alef 17:1): “By the life of Hashem, God of Yisrael, before Whom I stand, [I swear that] there will not be dew or rain during theses years, except by my word.” Later, Eliyahu presented an accusation against the Jewish People, that they had forsaken their covenant with Hashem – a sin for which they deserved to be wiped them out, far be it. Eliyahu’s presenting this harsh accusation could be viewed as showing that his earlier declaration about the rain was not intended to stir the people to repent, but rather simply to cause them harm. And likewise, it could be viewed as showing that Pinchas/Eliyahu’s zealous act at Shittim was not meant to bring them merit, but rather to indict them – to convey the message that they deserved to be wiped out. And so Hashem charged him with acting with ill will toward the Jewish People, and undeserving of the reward he previously received. Hashem knew that in truth Eliyahu did not act with evil intent, and He leveled against this charge against him only as a form of rebuke.
Hashem was telling Eliyahu that it not fitting for a people’s leader to indict them. Rather, a leader must take it upon himself to bear with the people’s conduct. He must strive to avoid castigating his people with fiery rebukes. Rather, he must endeavor to lead them gently toward the proper path, along the lines that Malachi later described (verse 2:5-6): “My covenant was with him, life and peace, …, the teaching  of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips – he walked before Me in peace and with fairness, and turned many away from iniquity.” This was also the message behind the vision Hashem showed Eliyahu. “My glory is not found, Hashem said, “in forces of destruction – wind, earthquakes, and fire – but, rather, it is found in a still, small voice.” With this, Hashem meant to teach Eliyahu, and each of us, to deal with others gently.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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