There are four topics in Parshat Pinchas: 1) the postscript to the Pinchas’ actions, 2) the dividing of Israel according to inheritance, including lists of lineage and the episode of the daughters of Tzlofchod, 3) the choice of Yehoshua to take over for Moshe, and 4) the regular-temidim and Mussaf Korbanot. What is the connecting theme of these topics?
The common theme here is the concept of korban (which is normally translated as sacrifice, but really means an act that increases closeness to G-d - Me).
The killing of Zimri is described by Chazal in terminology of sacrifice. We’re told in 25:6 – that Zimri was makriv a Midianite woman, towards the opening of the Ohel Moed. Also, Pinchas is rewarded with kehunah, and we’re informed that he brought kaparah for the Jewish People. The Medrash asks about the use of the word kaparah – “did he offer a korban that this word is used?” And the Medrash explains that his killing a wicked man was considered like offering a sacrifice.
These same phrases are repeated in the story of Bnot Tzlofchod (27:1, 5). Their approach of Moshe is preceded by the word vatikravna, then there’s a mention of being towards the opening of the Ohel Moed. Additionally we’re told that Moshe was makriv their words – lifnei Hashem.
The symbol used for the passing on of leadership to Yehoshua is semicha, a physical act commonly used in the avodah of korbanot.
The last part of the Parsha is actually about korbanot.
The deeper theme here is that of replacement, a foundation of what korbanot are about. By attacking Zimri and Kazbi, Pinchas replaced G-d’s Kin’ah with his own (25:11). Also, Hashem was intent upon destroying Am Yisrael, but we’re told that He did not destroy them, because the killing of Zimri and Kazbi replaced that of Bnei Yisrael (velo kiniti et Bnei Yisrael). These replacements are the undercurrent of the korban that the Medrash says that Zimri and Kazbi became.
The section that discusses the division of the land deals with the generation that replaced those who left Mitzrayim. As described in Shemot 3:8, the Yotz’ai Mitzrayim were originally meant to inherit the land but the next generation inherited in their stead.
Bnot Tzlofchod replaced the men (father, brothers) that were not there to inherit the land.
Yehoshua replaced Moshe.
Karbanot are based on the principal of the animal replacing us.
There are two seemingly out of place references in this parsha to people who were killed out. These can be explained in the light of the approach we’ve developed.
26:9-11 speaks of Korach and co. Their desire was to replace Moshe and Aharon. Their names are evoked by the daughters of Tzlofchod. We can now see that Bnot Tzlofchod are drawing a contrast between their father (who they wish to rightfully fill in for) and Korach who had an insincere personal agenda motivating his demand for replacement.
26:19 refers to Eir and Onan. At the center of that story is Onan’s refusal to replace the lineage of his deceased brother.
There is also reference to the death of Aharon’s sons. They brought a korban that did not serve to replace them, thus their lives were taken. Aharon and others who brought korbanot correctly were replaced by their korban.
That this portion focuses on replacement is not surprising taken in light of what precedes it. The previous portion focuses on abuses of this concept. Bilam continuously uses korbanot towards accomplishing his evil designs. Also, at the end of the parsha Bnei Yisrael are involved with zivchei meitim.
Going back to Bilam, there is a striking similarity between Bilam’s story and the story of the Akeida. Chazal note the description of Bilam rising early and preparing his donkey for his journey, and imagine G-d telling him, “Wicked one, Avraham already preceded you in rising early.” These two personalities personify self-centeredness on the one hand, and self-sacrifice on the other. Also, it is not arbitrarily that the Mishna in Avot chose to contrast the students of Avraham and the followers of Bilam. (Some commentaries explain that Chazal contrast the students, because sometimes the differences can be hard to detect in the masters – Me.)
Finally, Pinchas put himself in danger. Like Yitzchak, he was willing to sacrifice his own life and was then replaced and saved. (Normally, one can not become a Kohein. Even as a gift from G-d we don’t see another example of this once it was set who the Kohanim were. Rav Nachman Kahane suggests that Pinchas actually became a new person, and the person he became was a Kohein. Within the terminology we’ve been using, you could say that the old Pinchas was replaced by a new one! - Me )
In conclusion, this parsha presents a restatement of the fundamental concept of replacement as it relates to true service of G-d.
P.S. Unrelated (although everything is really related) parsha point: Rav Nachman Kahane notes the striking similarity between the Dovid vs. Goliad story and the Pinchas vs. Zimri story.