The underlying assumption here is interesting: how Pinchas was viewed – whether as a hothead or a man of peace driven to drastic action – is directly related to the knowledge of where he came from, who his parents and grandparents were. The Derashos haRan writes that Avraham did not mind if Yitzchak married into a family of idolators, as Avraham had the tools to undo a wrong philosophical outlook, but he forbade Yitzchak from marrying people outside his family because bad midos are somehow genetically transmitted and cannot be undone. In our case, Yisro’s lineage was viewed as somehow genetically corrupt, his offspring “carriers” of a genetic tendency toward bloodshed. I wouldn’t expect a modern reader to buy into this approach. We have no problem accepting that a shoemaker who never finished elementary school can have a grandson who is a nobel prize winner, or similar such stories. We like to think we all have the freedom and independence to become what our parents are not. Whether that's really true or not is another story.
Be that as it may, when we discuss Pinchas’ lineage, we also need to take account of the fact that Pinchas’ mother was a descendent not only of Yiro, but of Yosef as well (see Sotah 43). The Tiferes Shlomo notes that kinah (=156), the trait that characterized Pinchas’ actions in our parsha, has the same gematriya as Yosef (=156). Kinah is the hallmark of a special relationship. When we learn sotah we talk about kinuy and stirah, the husband who warns his wife not to get involved with anyone else -- the relationship between husband and wife precludes anything from coming between them. Pinchas’ kinah turned back Hashem’s anger because whatever faults, transgressions, missteps may arise, they cannot come between a relationship that has this ingredient of kinah. “Vaykanu bo echav” – through Yosef (“bo” = through him, not directed at him), explains the Radomsker, this special relationship of kinah was created. “Lechna re’ey es shlom achecha,” Yosef the channel of kinah is the one who can lead and bring shalom; Pinchas who arouses “b’kanoh es kinasi b’socham,” the spirit of kinah within Klal Yisrael, is rewarded with the gift of shalom as well.
The Radomsker doesn’t say it, but it seems implicit in the parallelism between Yosef and Pinchas that kimah invites misunderstanding. Yosef was rejected; Pinchas suffers criticism. Chazal warn against those who act like Zimri but want the reward of Pinchas. It takes no great intelligence to recognize that bad guys don’t deserve rewards; it does take great intelligence to recognize that a Zimri doesn’t deserve a reward. The Shem m’Shmuel notes that Chazal (Nazir 23) discuss Zimri’s sin in the same context as Tamar’s relationship with Yehudah, which was undertaken purely l’shem shamayim. Zimri was able to convince himself and to convince others that he was not acting out of lust, but was motivated with the best intentions. The gemara (Sanhedrin 62) writes that the members of sheivet Shimon came to Zimri to complain that they were being killed and he was doing nothing. The Sanz-Klausenberger explains that Zimri was responding (or at least portrayed himself this way) to the needs of his sheivet – taking a Midianite women was a minor transgression that was “needed” to make an argument that could save the masses from death. The Ishbitzer writes that Zimri’s actions appeared to be above and beyond criticism. If you or I were to look at Zimri we would probably wish that we did mitzvos with as much l’shem shamyim as his actions! We would go over and pin a medal on Zimri and give him all the rewards he wanted. And Pinchas/Yosef? He is the guy we don’t understand and the guy we reject. We force Yosef undercover and he has to disguise himself as a Mitzri until we finally come to accept him for who he is. Zimri is the guy who really is undercover, disguising who he really is with the mask of l'shem shamayim, unrecognizable until a Yosef/Pinchas, a master of disguise, can reveal the truth for us.
I've been rambling a bit this week because it’s all very confusing. The heroes come disguised as villains; the villains look like heroes. I wish I could tell you how to sort things out, but I can’t. Who's the real Pinchas and who's the Zimri? All I can say is don't expect easy answers.