By taking up a spear and physically attacking those who are responsible for the intolerable act, Pinchas technically commits a grave breach of the peace. Yet what does God do? He rewards him! He gives him “a covenant of peace”! It all seems so strange. How can “no-peace” be rewarded with peace?
Obviously it all depends on what we mean by “peace”. It becomes clear when we analyse the rabbinic idea (Ber. 56b) which distinguishes between the bird, the river and the kettle.
When there is a disturbance, the bird flies away. That’s one kind of peace, when you walk away, extricate yourself from conflict, and escape for the sake of a quiet life.
The river flows on, regardless of what is raging about it on both sides. That’s a second kind of peace, when you refuse to get involved, you maintain your equilibrium, you keep your cool, you don’t get worked up.
The kettle boils up, but a new entity emerges from all the activity. That’s also a category of peace, when the contents of the kettle grapple with each other and come out blended.
What then did Pinchas do? He did not run away or remain unaffected. He jumped into the fray, but when things settled down there came a new situation of calm and co-operation, which is another way of saying that there was peace in the camp.