Parashat Pinhas: The Covenant of Peace
In the beginning of Parashat Pinhas, G-d speaks to Moshe and announces that He would be rewarding Pinhas for his bold action during the tragic event of Ba’al Pe’or. As we read in the final verses of Parashat Balak, Beneh Yisrael engaged in illicit relationships with the women of Moab, and worshipped Moab’s deity, in response to which G-d sent a deadly plague that killed many thousands among Beneh Yisrael. Pinhas ended the plague by killing Zimri – a leader of one of the tribes of Beneh Yisrael – as he committed a public sinful act with a woman from Midyan. G-d announced that He would be rewarding Pinhas, granting him "Beriti Shalom" – "My covenant of peace."
The Or Ha’hayim Ha’kadosh (Rav Haim Ben-Attar, 1696-1743) explains this verse amidst his discussion in Sefer Debarim of the Ir Ha’nidahat – the extraordinary law requiring killing all the inhabitants of a city that embraced idol worship. The Torah promises Beneh Yisrael that if they fulfill this command, and eliminate the people of such a city, then G-d "will grant your compassion, and have compassion on you" (Debarim 13:18). The Or Ha’hayim explains that G-d promises not only to treat the nation compassionately, but also that He would "grant you compassion" – ensure that the act of killing a city’s population would not engender a violent character. Normally, people who begin acting violently develop a violent nature. G-d assures Beneh Yisrael that when they are compelled to eliminate a city that worships idols (something which, incidentally, the Gemara tells never actually happened), He would see to it that this will not affect their compassionate personalities, and they will remain kind, loving and merciful people even after going through this experience.
The Or Ha’hayim explains G-d’s promise to Pinchas along similar lines. Although Pinhas committed an act of murder, he was guaranteed that this would not have an impact on his character. G-d granted Pinhas His "covenant of peace" – His guarantee that he would remain a peaceful, kind person despite having killed two people for the sake of G-d’s honor.
This insight teaches us that every action we perform impacts upon our character. Every slight inappropriate act makes us more likely to then commit another inappropriate act. If we are careful to perform all our actions sincerely for the sake of G-d, following His instructions and striving to fulfill His will, then we are guaranteed His "covenant of peace," that our actions will refine and elevate our characters, such that we continue to grow each day of our lives.