(א) וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בַּשִּׁטִּ֑ים וַיָּ֣חֶל הָעָ֔ם לִזְנ֖וֹת אֶל־בְּנ֥וֹת מוֹאָֽב׃ (ב) וַתִּקְרֶ֣אןָ לָעָ֔ם לְזִבְחֵ֖י אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֑ן וַיֹּ֣אכַל הָעָ֔ם וַיִּֽשְׁתַּחֲוּ֖וּ לֵֽאלֹהֵיהֶֽן׃ (ג) וַיִּצָּ֥מֶד יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לְבַ֣עַל פְּע֑וֹר וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֥ף יְהוָ֖ה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ד) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה קַ֚ח אֶת־כָּל־רָאשֵׁ֣י הָעָ֔ם וְהוֹקַ֥ע אוֹתָ֛ם לַיהוָ֖ה נֶ֣גֶד הַשָּׁ֑מֶשׁ וְיָשֹׁ֛ב חֲר֥וֹן אַף־יְהוָ֖ה מִיִּשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ה) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶל־שֹׁפְטֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל הִרְגוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֲנָשָׁ֔יו הַנִּצְמָדִ֖ים לְבַ֥עַל פְּעֽוֹר׃ (ו) וְהִנֵּ֡ה אִישׁ֩ מִבְּנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל בָּ֗א וַיַּקְרֵ֤ב אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ אֶת־הַמִּדְיָנִ֔ית לְעֵינֵ֣י מֹשֶׁ֔ה וּלְעֵינֵ֖י כָּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהֵ֣מָּה בֹכִ֔ים פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃ (ז) וַיַּ֗רְא פִּֽינְחָס֙ בֶּן־אֶלְעָזָ֔ר בֶּֽן־אַהֲרֹ֖ן הַכֹּהֵ֑ן וַיָּ֙קָם֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ הָֽעֵדָ֔ה וַיִּקַּ֥ח רֹ֖מַח בְּיָדֽוֹ׃ (ח) וַ֠יָּבֹא אַחַ֨ר אִֽישׁ־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶל־הַקֻּבָּ֗ה וַיִּדְקֹר֙ אֶת־שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם אֵ֚ת אִ֣ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאֶת־הָאִשָּׁ֖ה אֶל־קֳבָתָ֑הּ וַתֵּֽעָצַר֙ הַמַּגֵּפָ֔ה מֵעַ֖ל בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ט) וַיִּהְי֕וּ הַמֵּתִ֖ים בַּמַּגֵּפָ֑ה אַרְבָּעָ֥ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֖ים אָֽלֶף׃ (פ)
(1) While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people profaned themselves by whoring with the Moabite women, (2) who invited the people to the sacrifices for their god. The people partook of them and worshiped that god. (3) Thus Israel attached itself to Baal-peor, and the LORD was incensed with Israel. (4) The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before the LORD, so that the LORD’s wrath may turn away from Israel.” (5) So Moses said to Israel’s officials, “Each of you slay those of his men who attached themselves to Baal-peor.” (6) Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions, in the sight of Moses and of the whole Israelite community who were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. (7) When Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he left the assembly and, taking a spear in his hand, (8) he followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. Then the plague against the Israelites was checked. (9) Those who died of the plague numbered twenty-four thousand.
The beginning of our sidra concludes the story of Balaam's malicious efforts to discredit Israel in the eyes of the Almighty, by seducing them to commit immorality. The background to this story is filled in by the following excerpt from the Talmud which discusses the subject.
אמר להם אלהיהם של אלו שונא זימה הוא והם מתאוים לכלי פשתן בוא ואשיאך עצה עשה להן קלעים והושיב בהן זונות זקינה מבחוץ וילדה מבפנים וימכרו להן כלי פשתן עשה להן קלעים מהר שלג עד בית הישימות והושיב בהן זונות זקינה מבחוץ וילדה מבפנים ובשעה שישראל אוכלין ושותין ושמחין ויוצאין לטייל בשוק אומרת לו הזקינה אי אתה מבקש כלי פשתן זקינה אומרת לו בשוה וילדה אומרת לו בפחות שתים ושלש פעמים ואח"כ אומרת לו הרי את כבן בית שב ברור לעצמך וצרצורי של יין עמוני מונח אצלה ועדיין לא נאסר (יין של עמוני ולא) יין של נכרים אמרה לו רצונך שתשתה כוס של יין כיון ששתה בער בו אמר לה השמיעי לי הוציאה יראתה מתוך חיקה אמרה לו עבוד לזה אמר לה הלא יהודי אני אמרה לו ומה איכפת לך כלום מבקשים ממך אלא פיעור [והוא אינו יודע שעבודתה בכך] ולא עוד אלא שאיני מנחתך עד שתכפור בתורת משה רבך שנא' (הושע ט, י) המה באו בעל פעור וינזרו לבשת ויהיו שקוצים באהבם
Balaam said to them: The God of these Jewish people despises lewdness, and they desire linen garments, as they have no new garments; come, and I will give you advice. Make for them enclosures using wall hangings and seat prostitutes in them, with an old woman outside the enclosure and a young woman inside, and have the women sell them linen garments. Balak made for them enclosures using wall hangings from the snow mountain, the Ḥermon, until Beit HaYeshimot, and he sat prostitutes in them, with an old woman outside and a young woman on the inside. And at the time when Jewish people were eating and drinking and were glad and going out to stroll in the marketplace, the old woman would say to a Jew: Aren’t you seeking linen garments? He would enter the enclosure and ask the price, the old woman would quote him a price equal to its value, and the young woman would quote him a price less than its value. That scenario would repeat itself two or three times. And thereafter she would say to him: You are like a member of our household, sit and choose for yourself the merchandise that you want. And a jug of Ammonite wine was placed near her, and neither Ammonite wine nor gentile wine had been prohibited yet for Jews. She said to him: Is it your wish to drink a cup of wine? Once he drank the wine, his evil inclination burned within him. He then said to her: Submit to me and engage in intercourse with me. She then removed the idol that she worshipped from her lap and said to him: Worship this. He said to her: Am I not Jewish? I am therefore forbidden from engaging in idol worship. She said to him: And what is your concern? We are asking you to do nothing more than defecate in its presence. But he does not know that its worship is conducted in that manner. Once he did so, she said to him: Moreover, I will not leave you until you deny the Torah of Moses your teacher, as it is stated: “But when they came to Ba’al-Peor they separated themselves to the shameful item; and they became detestable like that which they loved” (Hosea 9:10). They devoted themselves to the disgrace of defecation, and detested the name of God.
(10) Adonai spoke to Moses, saying, (11) “Pinchas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion. (12) Say, therefore, ‘I grant him My covenant of peace.'
In reward for turning away the wrath of HaKadoesh Baruch Hu, God blessed him with the attribute of peace, that he should not be quick-tempered or angry. Since, it was only natural that such a deed as Pinchas' should leave in his heart an intense emotional unrest afterward, the divine blessing was designed to cope with this situation and promised peace and tranquility of soul.
Rebbe Kotzk, Amud HaEmet
Having seen Pinchas' zealousness for God's name... Moses thought, 'A zealot cannot be the leader of Israel.' Therefore Moses turned to God to find an alternative.
(5) He lay down and fell asleep under a broom bush. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” (6) He looked about; and there, beside his head, was a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water! He ate and drank, and lay down again. (7) The angel of the LORD came a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.” (8) He arose and ate and drank; and with the strength from that meal he walked forty days and forty nights as far as the mountain of God at Horeb. (9) There he went into a cave, and there he spent the night. Then the word of the LORD came to him. He said to him, “Why are you here, Elijah?” (10) He replied, “I am moved by zeal for the LORD, the God of Hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and put Your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they are out to take my life.” (11) “Come out,” He called, “and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And lo, the LORD passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind—an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake. (12) After the earthquake—fire; but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire—a soft murmuring sound. (13) When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his mantle about his face and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then a voice addressed him: “Why are you here, Elijah?” (14) He answered, “I am moved by zeal for the LORD, the God of Hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and have put Your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they are out to take my life.” (15) The LORD said to him, “Go back by the way you came, [and] on to the wilderness of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael as king of Aram. (16) Also anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah to succeed you as prophet.