"Behold! I give him my covenant of peace….a covenant of eternal priesthood." (Num. 25:12-13)

Pinchas could have acquired the priesthood either as an act of forgiveness or as a gift from G‑d. In the former event, his deed prompted G‑d to forgive him for having failed at the time to have himself anointed. If we see in his appointment now a gift from G‑d, we may view it as something entirely new. Just as Aaron and his sons were appointed to be priests, though Amram, Aaron’s father, and his brothers had not been priests, so Pinchas’ appointment was something quite new.

Pinchas’ appointment was something quite new.

There is a halachic difference between priesthood acquired as an act of forgiveness and priesthood acquired as a gift. In the former case, the priest need not perform an act of kinyan, a symbolic act of acquisition of the priesthood; however, someone who had not had a previous claim to the priesthood and was awarded same as a gift, must perform such an act of kinyan.

Receiving the priesthood as a gift carries with it two disadvantages which the person who received the priesthood as an act of forgiveness need not worry about. If the priesthood was attained via G‑d forgiving Pinchas for an act of negligence in the past, then, if Pinchas were to be appointed High Priest at a future date he would not have to face any challengers. Any challenge would be dealt with as had the challenges against Aaron becoming High Priest. If the priesthood were to be granted only as a gift, the priest in question could face challenges to his promotion just as did Aaron before G‑d had intervened. Such a challenge would be reinforced by the fact that Pinchas had killed. A priest who has killed is supposedly unfit to perform his priestly duties. People would claim that inasmuch as the status of the priesthood granted as a gift is limited to the recipient of that gift becoming an ordinary priest, such a priest does not qualify to compete for the office of High Priest. This is not so when a potential priest regains his former status through the act of G‑d’s forgiveness. Seeing that he had been in line for the office of High Priest before he had forfeited it through negligence, G‑d’s forgiveness reinstates such a potential priest in his former status.

...obtaining the priesthood by way of an act of forgiveness from G‑d is superior...

As a result of these considerations, obtaining the priesthood by way of an act of forgiveness from G‑d is superior in three ways to obtaining it as a mere gift. 1) No normal act of acquisition is needed. 2) One need not worry about potential challengers to one’s promotion. 3) It is an enduring status transferable to one’s children and grandchildren as something hereditary.

In His wisdom, G‑d decided to accord Pinchas the priesthood as a gift in order to demonstrate that he did not become a priest merely through a hereditary claim to the priesthood instead of a claim based on moral excellence. By appointing Pinchas as a priest directly, G‑d elevated the meaning of Pinchas’ priesthood, made it into something which he could point to as a mark of personal distinction. This is why the Torah describes G‑d as saying: "Surely I give to him My covenant, peace." In view of our having pointed out that such a gift by definition may not be transferable to one’s children, G‑d had to reinforce the gift by an oath, i.e. the word 'achen/surely', in order to make the appointment as enduring as if it had been acquired through an act of forgiveness. This is why G‑d had to add "to him and his descendants after him" The "peace: included that no one would challenge Pinchas’ claim to the priesthood and the office of High Priest when the time came.

I have pointed out on a previous occasion that the word kehuna/priesthood is the name of a certain category of souls known as such in the region where the souls are at home. G-s assured Pinchas that his descendants would always receive souls drawn from the pool of souls known as kehuna. This is the mystical dimension of the expression kehunat olam.

[Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of "Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar" by Eliyahu Munk.]