FIRST LEVEL OF MEANING
Phinehas was a high priest in the Old Testament era who won from HaShem the end of His annihilation of the people of Israel and a covenant of peace, because his love for the Word of God made him defend His commandments with zeal and slay the heresy of Pe’or. The actions of Phinehas arose from his heart, from His love both for God and for Israel. The priest could not stand to see the treatment that was being meted out to HaShem by their own people and to the people by God in return. Phinehas could not remain silent.
Because he spoke out and took action, despite the risk, against what the people had brought upon themselves, he stopped the wrath of HaShem and the chastisement of the Israelites in its tracks, sparing the rest of the people from being wiped out. He also won a covenant of peace for them. In reward for his zeal and atonement, the Father also granted Phinehas the covenant, the right, for both himself and his descendants to intercede effectively for the people and expiate acceptably for their sins in the sight of God.
The Heresy of Pe’or: Violating the Sixth Commandment to Violate the First
The heresy of Pe’or was inherently made up of two heresies, two lies: the right of the freedom of sexual expression and the right of freedom of worship – rights which characterized the pagan cultures of the time. But the people of Israel were no longer pagan. Despite being the last to have been offered it, the Israelites had accepted the covenant of the Torah and became a nation consecrated to life (God is Life; Gn 1:1-30), a holy people set aside for God. They voluntarily pledged their obedience to HaShem and His Commandments (Ex 20:1-17), and renounced the lifestyles of neighboring, pagan cultures, in return for the special favor of God.
When many Israelites decided to accept and follow the heresy of Pe’or, they reneged on their covenant with HaShem. They violated their state of holiness by engaging in sexual depravities which contaminated their purity. They betrayed their special relationship with God by worshipping false gods. Above all, they ate sacrificial victims to the dead and became consecrated to Chemosh and Ishtar. Hence, the people of Israel desecrated themselves, broke their consecration to life and instead became consecrated to death.
In addition, this desecration by the Israelites was brought right into the house of HaShem through Zimri, their prince. Thus, the people of God incurred His wrath because they betrayed Him on many levels; betrayals which had, in essence, turned them into the people of Satan. Meanwhile, the process employed by the Moabites and the Midianites to entice the people of Israel to sin was to get the latter to first violate the Sixth Commandment, so that they could ultimately persuade them to thoroughly violate the First Commandment.