In commenting on the verse1Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon beheld this… and he took a spear in his hand,” Rashi notes: “He saw what was transpiring and reminded himself of the law that zealous individuals may attack one who is intimate with a heathen woman.”

The Torah goes on to say that as a reward for his zealousness, G‑d granted Pinchas “eternal priesthood, to him and his descendants after him.”2

How was it possible for Pinchas to receive the priesthood as a reward for his actions? While Pinchas no doubt deserved a great reward, the priesthood is seemingly not something that can be given as a reward, rather it is a natural state of being.

Up until then, Pinchas was not a priest, for “The priesthood was only given to Aharon and his sons who were anointed with him, and their progeny who would be born subsequent to their anointment.”3 Pinchas, however, was born earlier and thus was not included in the priesthood. Since Pinchas was excluded from the priesthood, how did he suddenly become a priest?

The sin of illicit relationships is harsher than other sins in that it occupies the individual entirely and involves the person’s essence. As harsh as this sin is, the sin of intimacy with a heathen woman is even harsher. The reason for this is because other illicit relationships do not cross the boundaries that G‑d established between the Jewish people and other nations, while intimacy with a heathen woman does, inasmuch as the child born as a result of such a relationship is not Jewish. Thus, a person who is involved in this type of relationship takes his ability to procreate — a power that stems from his soul’s essence — and utilizes it to father a non-Jewish child!

We must, however, understand the following: Since the division between Jew and non-Jew is a boundary that was placed within creation, how is it possible for a Jew to — Heaven forfend — overstep this boundary by being intimate with a heathen women and fathering a non-Jewish child?

A Jew’s ability to choose freely results from “Man’s being similar to Us” — he is likened, as it were, to G‑d. Just as G‑d can do whatever He pleases, so too can the Jew choose to do as he wills.4

Since G‑d is not at all limited by laws of nature (so much so that the He is not limited to the separation between Jew and non-Jew, for it was He that chose to make that separation in the first place), so too can a Jew utilize his freedom of choice to choose that which is the opposite of holiness — fathering a non-Jewish child.

This is also why Pinchas was rewarded for his actions with “eternal priesthood,” even though priesthood is a natural state of being. Since the sin that elicited Pinchas’ zealous response was one that consisted of breaching the boundaries between Jews and non-Jews, therefore he was rewarded — measure for measure — with a priesthood that could come about only by a Divine elimination of the natural barriers Pinchas faced in obtaining the priesthood.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. VIII, pp. 150-156.