Yisroel dwelled in Shittim, and the people began to act illicitly with the women of Moav. They induced the people to sacrifice to their gods; the people ate and bowed down to their gods. Israel became attached to Ba’al Peor, and God became angry at Yisroel ... One of the children of Israel came and brought to his brothers a Midianite woman, in front of Moshe and the entire congregation of Israel, who were crying by the entrance of the Ohel Moed. When Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon the kohen saw [what was happending], he arose from amidst the assembly, and took his spear in his hand. He went after the Jewish man into the tent, and speared them both, the Jewish man and the woman. The plague stopped from the children of Israel ... (BaMidbar 25:1)It had been an ignoble end to forty years in the desert. After God had turned Bilaam’s curses into blessings, and the Jewish people had been praised by Bilaam (albeit unwillingly) for their great modesty, they stumbled through the daughters of Midian. It had been Bilaam’s plan, and the toll had been appalling: 176,000 Jews died altogether ( Rashi, BaMidbar 26:13).
The number would have been even higher, had it not been for Pinchas. By zealously killing Zimri (from the tribe of Shimon) and Cozbi (the Midianite princess) [Incredibly, Zimri was the reincarnation of Shechem ben Chamor, and Cozbi had been the reincarnation of Dinah, Ya’akov’s daughter (Pri Tzadik, Parshas Pinchas 1)], Pinchas had mitigated the plague, and restored the relationship between God and the Jewish people. He was rewarded accordingly:God told Moshe, “Pinchas, the son Elazar, the son Aharon HaKohen, turned away My anger from the Jewish people, and was zealous with My jealousy in the midst of them, so that I shouldn’t destroy the children of Israel. Therefore, I give to him My covenant of peace; he and his descendants after him will have the covenant of the priesthood forever ... (BaMidbar 25:10)Though Pinchas had descended from Aharon’s son, Elazar, he had not been a kohen since he had been born prior to the giving of Torah at Har Sinai. However, his heroic and selfless act of zealousness recovered his right to be a kohen, and earned him an eternal covenent of peace. According to tradition, he even gained immortality, eventually becoming Eliyahu HaNavi who ascended to heaven on a fiery chariot (Pirke d’Rebi Eliezer, 29).
However, of all the rewards he received, there was one small reward that counted for a lot: the addition of the letter yud to his name. Like Yehoshua, another descendant from Yosef, a yud was added to Pinchas’ name, so that it became:
Pinchas - peh, yud, nun, ches, samech
However, there was a difference. The yud added to Yehoshua’s name transformed it from Hoshea to Yehoshua. With respect to Pinchas’ name, the pronunciation had not changed, since the yud was already pronounced; it had only been invisible to the eye (i.e., not written).
In a sense, then, the yud was not added to Pinchas’ name, but revealed in his name, placing emphasis on the prophetic meaning of his name. For, the name can be broken up into three parts:
The literal translation: my mouth was concerned (chas) about nun, i.e., fifty, [According to Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the name means: my mouth, the mouth of God urged me to do it (BaMidbar 25:11)] as if to say, my mouth acted in defence of the Fifty Gates of Understanding, or, at least, was drawn from there. Perhaps this is why he merited to become a kohen, for,
koh (chof, heh)—nun
The word kohen is made up of two parts, the word koh, and the letter nun. The word koh alludes to two things: to the Tetragrammaton Name of Hashem, as we learned from Avraham, and, to the Hidden Light of creation made the first day and hidden for the righteous in the Time-to-Come. [The possuk says, yehi ohr (Bereishis 1:3), as if to say that the light was yehi, which has a gematria of twenty-five. When Adam ate from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah, God asked him, Ayeka (Where are you?), which is made up of two words, ai and kov, which can mean, “Where is twenty-five?” that is, your act was contrary to the Supernal Light.] The nun itself alludes to the Fifty Gates of Wisdom. Indeed, it is the kohen’s role to cause Torah Sh’b’al Peh, the light of the Nun Sha’arei Binah, to enter the hearts of the Jewish people ( Pri Tzadik, Parshas Korach, 5.).
This itself answers a perplexing question. For Pinchas to have performed his deed, he had to slip past Zimri’s guards, which he did by pretending to join Zimri in his lewdness. Obviously he had been successful. However, once he had entered Zimri’s tent, and had reassembled his spear, why hadn’t Zimri and Cozbi screamed and alerted their guards to prevent Pinchas from carrying out the final stage of his plan?
Because, when they had come face-to-face Pinchas, they had seen a living embodiment of the Fifty Gates of Understanding! Instantaneously, they had become fully aware of how destructive their immoral behavior was. At that point, their thoughts had turned only to tshuva, and atonement, and they had felt powerful to stand in Pinchas’ way from carrying out both on their behalf! (Pri Tzadik, Parashas Pinchas 2)
This is the powerful level of pi—when a person’s mouth becomes a vehicle for the Dibur Hashem—the word of God. It is the level on which the mouth becomes a channel through which the da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding can flow from the realm of the hidden into the realm of the revealed. It is the level on which fifty and dibur meet.
Moshe Rabbeinu knew all of this. This was why, even though God Himself had requested that Moshe go to Paroah and free the Jewish people, he refused:Moshe said to God, “Forgive me, my God, but I am not a man of words, neither yesterday nor since You have spoken to Your servant; I have a ‘heavy’ mouth and a ‘heavy’ tongue.” (Shemos 4:10)The simple explanation is that Moshe had a lisp. The midrash says that when Moshe had been a baby in Paroah’s court, an incident occurred that had permanently impaired his speech. When Moshe had been three years old, he had been sitting on Bisya’s (The daughter of Paroah who had saved Moshe from the water (Shemos 2:6).) lap with Paroah close by. Moshe had climbed down off Bisya’s lap and walked over to Paroah. He then took the crown off Paroah’s head and put it on his own.
Everyone in the court had been stunned. At another point in history, had the baby been the true heir to the throne, and the prophecy of a Jewish redeemer not been hanging over Paroah’s head, what Moshe did might have been considered cute. However, for Paroah and his court, the nagging question had to be: Was this a sign of things to come?
To find out, Paroah had devised a test for the baby Moshe: a brilliant diamond and a glowing goal was to be brought and placed before Moshe. Should he pick up the diamond, then it would be clear that Moshe worked with thought and cunning. However, should Moshe pick up the burning coal, then it would be clear to all that Moshe was just like any other baby that indiscriminately reaches for anything that glitters.
Of course Moshe had reached for the diamond. However, God had sent the angel Gavriel to redirect Moshe’s hand, so that he reached for the coal instead, which he had promptly put into his mouth, burning it. As a result, Moshe’s life had been spared, but not his tongue, and as far as Moshe had been concerned, not his chance at being the redeemer from Egyptian bondage (Shemos Rabbah, 1:31).
However, what Moshe had overlooked (at least on this level) was that it was his lisp that had made him most fitting for the job. It had been intended that the giver of Torah should have a speech impediment, and be a poor orator. This way it could be clear to all of B’nei Yisroel that Moshe’s ability to transmit Torah was only the result of the Shechina residing upon him, and that the word of God flowed not from Moshe, but through him (Tifferes Tzion, Shemos Rabbah, 1:31).
This had been implied in God’s response to Moshe:God answered him, “Who made man’s mouth, or who makes a person dumb, or deaf, or a person see, or the blind? Is it not I, God? Now, therefore go, and I will be with your mouth, and teach you what to say.”Resolved. Moshe had been worried that he could not speak properly, and was therefore unfitting to represent God and the Jewish people. God had therefore reassured him that it was not a problem, since it is God anyhow who controls a person’s mouth. However, for some reason, this answer had not satisfied Moshe, and he repeated his concern later, though with different words:Moshe said to God, “B’nei Yisroel wouldn’t listen to me—how will Paroah listen to me when I am of uncircumcized lips?” (Shemos 6:12)Two questions can be asked. First of all, was Moshe’s memory so short, that he couldn’t remember what God answered him at Har Sinai? Secondly, why did God ignore his question this time? Instead, the Torah goes into the genealogy of Moshe and Aharon, after which Moshe repeated his question, as if Moshe also had noticed that his question had gone unanswered by God. Even once God did respond, He didn’t refer to Himself as the One who fashions the mouth, and gives man the power of speech!
The answer is, because that had not been the intent of Moshe’s question this time. What Moshe had been asking was something far deeper, far more critical to his mission as the “Redeemer of the Mouth.” His question took aim at the very mission of learning Torah itself, and at the manifest purpose of the entire Jewish nation within the context of six thouand years of world history.
Moshe’s question opens up a discussion that requires a look into the very essence of the Covenant itself made between God and our great Forefather, Avraham Avinu. And the truth is, it is a discussion that requires a chapter unto itself.