In honor of the Ohr haChaim HaKadosh's Yohrzeit we are re-issuing last year's parsha vort: ZYA
HOW PINCHAS SAVED ZIMRI
"The name of the Ish Yisrael who was slain, who was slain with the Midianite woman" (25:14).
The Ohr HaChaim HaKodosh is bothered by the seemingly repetitive mention of the word "slain" or "struck (down)" in our pasuk, as opposed to the single occurrence of the word in the following pasuk referring to the Midianite princess, Kozbi. He tells us, therefore, that this pasuk can be read in one of two ways: either as "The name [and soul] of the Ish Yisrael was struck down [because] he was struck by the Midianite woman [spiritually]", or as "The name of the Ish Yisrael who was struck down [physically by Pinchas], he was struck by the Midianite woman [spiritually, through his relationship with her]".
The Ohr HaChaim points out that Zimri was struck twice: physically, his body was struck down and slain by Pinchas who, in a zealous act of righteousness, killed him; and his soul was also struck down by his relationship with Kozbi, the Midianite princess, which defiled his name and his inner essence, the Jewish soul. The Ohr HaChaim says that this is why the pasuk points out the name of the Ish Yisrael – because we know that a person's name influences and expresses his soul's nature (Berachos 7b, Yoma 83b). When Zimri sinned with Kozbi, he fatally wounded his own name, together with his Jewish soul, dealing himself a lethal blow even before Pinchas slew him.
Nonetheless, the Ohr HaChaim concludes in the name of the Mekubolim that "Lo Yidach Mimenu Nidach" – no one is ever left behind; there is hope and a tikkun (rectification) for every Jew, no matter what. All the sparks of kedusha will eventually be ingathered and uplifted. No matter how far a Jew might stray and – Heaven forbid – blemish or defile his soul, Hashem guarantees that it will be rectified and will return to its root source in the end.
Therefore, says the Ohr HaChaim, the pasuk still calls Zimri an Ish Yisrael – an Israelite, a Jew. The pasuk testifies that although his act was sinful, and, since he was killed in the midst of sin he surely did not have time to do teshuva, nonetheless he is still called Yisrael – he still achieved his tikkun. How? Pinchas did that for him. Pinchas' act was not a random act of vigilante justice or murder; it was a zealous act of righteousness LiSh'ma – for the honor and glory of Hashem, with pure motivations. Thus, by killing Zimri, Pinchas did him the ultimate favor and was mesaken him, thereby atoning for his sin and elevating his soul.