Parashat Pinhas begins with Hashem announcing the reward that would be given to Pinhas, the grandson of Aharon, who saved Beneh Yisrael during the tragic incident of Ba’al Pe’or. The people had committed severe sins with the women of Moav, and Hashem punished them by bringing a deadly plague that killed thousands of people. The plague ended only when Pinhas stood up and killed two public violators – the leader of one of the tribes, woman from Midyan with whom he committed a public sinful act. Hashem would have destroyed the entire nation if Pinhas had not done what he did.
Hashem announced that Pinhas’ reward would be בריתי שלום – “My covenant of peace.” According to one view, this means that Pinhas would be Eliyahu Ha’navi, who will come in the future to prepare the Jewish People for Mashiah. Just as Pinhas brought peace between Hashem and the people at the time of the sin of Ba’al Pe’or, he will also bring peace between Hashem and His nation in the future, at the time of the final redemption.
What does all this mean for us? And what is the connection between Pinhas’ act and Mashiah?
The idea to lure Beneh Yisrael to sin was conceived by Bilam, whom we read about in the previous parashah, Parashat Balak. He was hired to place a curse on Beneh Yisrael, but he was not successful, and so he advised luring the people to sin, instead – a plan which, unfortunately, succeeded.
Bilam describes himself as שתום העין – a man with a “closed eye.” The Rabbis explain that we are created with two eyes because we are to look at the world from two different viewpoints. One eye is to see the here-and-now, our current and immediate needs and wants. The other eye is to look beyond the here-and-now, toward our long-term goals, seeing the purpose for which we were brought into this world, and all that we are meant to accomplish during our brief sojourn on earth. Bilam set out to destroy Beneh Yisrael by “closing” their second “eye,” by having them see only the here-and-now, the enjoyment that they could experience in the present. Most of the mistakes that people make result from the closing of the second eye, from their failure to see beyond the present moment. They forget their long-term goals and purpose, and focus only on the vain pleasures available to them right now. This is how Bilam nearly succeeded in destroying Beneh Yisrael – by closing their second eye.
Pinhas ended the plague by doing something drastic, redirecting the people’s attention toward the things that really matter. He in essence opened their second eye, making them look beyond the present moment, and be mindful of the greater purpose for which they were created.
The Mishnah (Eduyot 8:7) teaches that Eliyahu Ha’navi is going to come before Mashiah לרחק המקורבין...ולקרב המרוחקין – “to distance those who are close…and to bring close those who are distant.” One explanation of this teaching is that Eliyahu will come to fix our priorities, to show us that the things which are “close,” that we focus our attention on, that we spend a great deal of time of on, should be “distanced,” and moved down to a lower rung of our priority scale. And he will show us how to bring “closer” into focus that which we have “distanced,” the important things, the things that really matter, the goals and ambitions that should be our highest priority.
This is why Pinhas is Eliyahu – because both “open our eyes” to give us proper perspective. They teach us that we need to look beyond the here-and-now, beyond the vain matters that take up our time and to which we devote our attention, to see the greater purpose of life, the important goals that we ought to be pursuing.
Let us all work to keep both eyes open, to of course tend to our needs and enjoy the world, while always remaining cognizant of the important missions that we have been brought here to accomplish.