Pinchas is the hero of the weekly portion. By taking swift action against a flagrant sinner he earned Divine approval. “The Lord spoke to Moses as follows, ‘Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has deflected My anger’” (Num. 26:10-11).
God had been angry because Pinchas assassinated a fellow Jew out of indignation that God-given moral standards were being flouted, and murdering another person, even a sinner, is a heinous act.
Rashi wonders why we need to be told who Pinchas’ father and grandfather were. It is possible that the Torah wants us to know that Pinchas was well brought up and had the right instincts. It is also possible that the Torah is assuring us that – despite his act of summary justice – Pinchas did not forfeit his place in the hereditary priesthood.
However, Rashi says something different, recalling midrashic statements that the tribes had been bad-mouthing Pinchas and making snide comments about some less savoury characters in his family tree. The Torah therefore needs to show that Pinchas lived up to the best and not the worst elements in his background.
This teaches us that we do immense harm to others and ourselves if we spread nasty reports about other people’s history. People should be judged by what they do, not what their ancestors may have done. If anything needs to be said about their lineage, let it be the admirable traits and traces that get a mention.