פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן
Rashi comments: because the tribes spoke disparagingly of him, saying: "Have you seen this grandson of Puti, the father of whose mother used to fatten calves for idolatrous sacrifices? And he has dared to slay a prince of one of the tribes of Israel!" Therefore the Scripture comes and connects his genealogy with Aharon (Sanhedrin 82b).
There is a famous question, which is that if he acted properly in being jealous on behalf of his G-d, what difference does it make if he was from an aristocratic family or from the lowliest among the people? For is not small or great just a name? And if he acted basely by spilling innocent blood in vain, is not his guilt even more unbearable if he came from a distinguished family?
Concerning these questions, it appears to our master that explanation lies in the law that one who has illicit relations with a Gentile woman may be executed by a zealot, but which we do not teach publicly. Now one must understand why, if this indeed is the law, the law does not uproot the mountain and why do we not teach the law publicly. Our master explained that only one whose jealousy for the Eternal burns like a flame upon seeing holiness desecrated by another who has illicit relations in broad daylight with a Gentile woman and whose soul, seeing this outrage, can find no refuge except by executing the perpetrator immediately. However, one who could control himself sufficiently to ask the opinion of the sages who know law and judgment is not such a jealous man and would not be fighting on behalf of the Almighty. This is why we do not teach this law publicly.
This was also the complaint of the tribes who poured scorn and contempt on him by saying: "Did you see this son of Puti who emerged naked from the womb of an idolatrous Gentile woman? How could one such as he be so jealous for the L-rd G-d of Israel that he could not control himself and slew a prince of Israel? It was only because of the excessive haughtiness within him that he did this deed." The Scripture therefore connected his genealogy to Aharon, the holy one of the Eternal, which is what inspired him to rise up, with a burning spirit of justice, to take vengeance on behalf of the Eternal.
And in this light how well may we understand the words of the Midrash which says about the verse (Numbers 25:12): "Wherefore, say, Behold I give unto him my covenant of peace." (לָכֵן אֱמֹר הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת-בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם) By right, may he take his reward (בדין הוא שיטול שכרו).
According to what has been said, the words of the Midrash are like pure silver, because the Sages say that there is no reward in this world for the performance of commandments. For the Eternal does not reward those who do good here below in order not to close the way before those who would do evil. For if the actions of a person were recompensed in this world, then the choice in the hands of every person to do as he wants would be negated. Who then would not hurry to perform all the commandments of the Eternal? Would one not be a hired laborer, coming with his reward to do the work before him? However, the commandment that a man should be jealous for his G-d cannot be done for recompense. For then would he not be taking a man's life? And would this not be just like a man rising against his neighbor and slaying him? Instead of a reward, his violence would come down upon his own head, and the G-d of vengeance would avenge his blood. Only the man who truly and wholeheartedly is jealous on behalf of the Eternal and whose anger burns for the desecration of His name of honor may take such an action. It is therefore just that he would receive his reward here on earth, because there is no reason to fear that everyone else would act similarly for the sake of reward, because had he done so for the sake of a reward he would have been considered a murderer
וַיַּקְרֵב מֹשֶׁה אֶת מִשְׁפָּטָן לִפְנֵי ה'
And Moses brought their cause before the L-RD. (Numbers 27:5)
Rashi comments: The law on this subject escaped him. Here he received punishment because he had assumed "a crown" (he had set himself up as the supreme judge) by saying, (Deuteronomy 1:17): "And the case that is too hard for you ye shall bring to me, and I will hear it."
Now one may wonder what "crown" the master takes if he tells his student that if any matter is too difficult the student may consult with him? In saying this he has not said that he will certainly respond to him and resolve his doubt. A further question concerns precisely what Moshe said "and the case that is too hard for you, ye shall bring to me," because it was so obvious that it need not have been said. It is obvious that what is too difficult for the students should be brought to their master.
But our master explained in the name of his father (R. Avraham Glasner 1826-78) that the verse about which we are speaking was concerned with a different issue, for there Moshe said: "You shall not be partial in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike; you shall not be afraid of the face of any man." His meaning was: "If you ever feel within yourselves that you are tending to one side because of respect or fear, then you should withdraw from judgment. But bring the case before me and I will hear it, because to me they are all equal. And neither hatred, nor love, and neither the greatness nor the smallness of a person will make any impression on my heart."
And this was why Moshe was punished here, for the daughters of Tz'laphhad bribed him when they spoke to him (Numbers 27:3): "Our father died in the wilderness; he was not in the company of those who gathered themselves together against the L-rd in the company of Korah." This comment is evidently irrelevant to their case. But they wished to inform Moshe that their father was one of his friends at the time that Korah and his company rose up against him. So when they said this to him, Moshe felt a partiality in his heart to an extent that left him unable to judge their case. And so he brought forward their case before the L-rd.
This is why the Sages said that here Moshe was punished for having taken a "crown" by saying "and the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it."
יִפְקֹד יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הָרוּחֹת לְכָל-בָּשָׂר אִישׁ עַל-הָעֵדָה יז אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא לִפְנֵיהֶם וַאֲשֶׁר יָבֹא לִפְנֵיהֶם וַאֲשֶׁר יוֹצִיאֵם וַאֲשֶׁר יְבִיאֵם
Let the L-RD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them, and who may come in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in; (Numbers 27:16-17)
See how Rashi explains the repetitive expressions, while the Ibn Ezra wrote that "אֲשֶׁר יוֹצִיאֵם" (who may lead them out) is by means of an agent.
And to our master it appears that a leader who walks at the head of the people to show them the way on which they should travel and the deeds that they should perform must be able to speak eloquently and to conduct himself fittingly. Therefore, by saying "אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא לִפְנֵיהֶם" (who will go out before them), Moshe was referring to the deeds of a leader and to the work of his hands. And when he said "וַאֲשֶׁר יוֹצִיאֵם וַאֲשֶׁר יְבִיאֵם" (who may lead them out and bring them in) with his words (Ecclesiastes 12:11): "the words of the wise are goads" (דברי חכמים כדרבונות).