Rashi explains that after Pinchas killed Zimri, the Jewish people began to shame him by recalling the fact that his maternal grandfather (Yisro) had been an idolater. Therefore, the Torah specifically emphasizes his paternal descent from Aharon HaKohen. If the people knew of the law that zealots may kill one publicly engaged in relations with a non-Jewish woman, why did they insult him? If they were unfamiliar with the law and viewed him as a cold-blooded murderer, of what benefit was it to Pinchas to point out his paternal lineage, and in what way did it change the reality that one of his grandfathers had served as a priest for idol-worship and that in their minds, he had needlessly killed the leader of a tribe?
A number of commentators (Rav Meir Shapiro, Kometz HaMinchah, and the Maharshag) explain that the value of a mitzvah is measured by the degree to which its performance runs counter to one’s natural inclinations and therefore represents a more difficult test of his devotion to Hashem. It is for this reason that the Akeidah (binding) of Yitzchok is considered to be a test for Avrohom more than for Yitzchok (Bereishis 22:1). The central attribute of Avrohom’s Divine service was chesed – kindness, while that of Yitzchok was gevurah – strength. The willingness to personally sacrifice one’s own son to Hashem is difficult for any father, but its challenge was significantly more for one whose entire life was devoted to the trait of kindness, and it is for this reason that it is considered to be a unique test for Avrohom.
The Jews attempted to minimize the greatness of Pinchas’ act not by insinuating that he was a cold-blooded killer, but by hinting that it had come easy to him as a result of his being descended from an idolater who was accustomed to cruelly killing animals as part of his idol-worship. The Torah therefore emphasizes that this act was indeed performed with great personal difficulty and internal resistance, as his natural instincts came not from his allegedly merciless maternal grandfather, but rather from his paternal grandfather Aharon HaKohen – a man whose entire life was dedicated to the love and pursuit of peace.
The Lekach Tov (vol. Chaim Shel Torah) derives from this explanation the importance of adapting ourselves to the Torah and not attempting to interpret the Torah’s laws in light of our personal preferences. A person once remarked to Rav Yitzchok Hutner that the performance of certain mitzvos is too difficult for him, as they run counter to his nature and he is simply unable to change. Rav Hutner responded by likening this to a case of a motorist speeding down a highway who suddenly sees flashing lights in his rear-view mirror. He pulls over, and the policeman approaches and asks why he was driving 83 mph on a highway with a speed limit of 50. The man foolishly answers that he did nothing wrong, as the car was set to cruise control and he wasn’t even the one driving at that speed. The officer dismissed his specious defense by noting that he was the one to initially set the cruise control to an illegal speed.
Similarly, when a person comes before the Heavenly Court and attempts to justify his ways by noting that certain mitzvos ran counter to his very essence, he will have a difficult time explaining who was responsible for creating within himself a nature which runs counter to the Torah. While everybody has different mitzvos which specifically challenge them, the Mishnayos in Avos teach us that the strong person is one who conquers his evil inclination (4:1) and that the harder a mitzvah is for a person, the greater will be the reward (5:22), a lesson we should learn from the tremendous reward given to Pinchas for acting counter to his nature.

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