You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Pinchas.
From Riche Groner
…And so, we name the names.
In our account after the plague, the Torah provides a list of the
children of Israel, from their tribes to the heads of clans.
And in an interesting twist from most texts of the ancient world,
including the Torah, we find some names listed that bring us new
insights, a breath of fresh air.
The names of women.
We learn of the matriarch, Serach.
Listed here only for her family connection as the daughter of Asher,
one of the sons of Yakov (Jacob), Serach’s life is rich in Midrashic
rabbinic narratives as that of a musician and matriarch, the women who
lived forever and led the people to solve various mysteries of time as
the keeper of wisdom for the ages, who strummed her harp and sang her
songs and remains the mystical mythical leader of the returning exiles
of Zion to this day.
We learn of Miriam, the prophetess, and her mother, Yocheved.
In the exodus from Egypt, the women of the generation are named by the
Talmud as being the reason for the redemption. In the Torah, there are
only a few women named explicitly: Yocheved, the daughter of Levi, and
her daughter, Miriam, the prophetess, and sister of Moshe and Aaron.
Miriam, who danced with the women at the banks of the Red Sea, drew
water for the people throughout their sojourn in the desert, and was
mourned by the people for her leadership as well as the water she
And this week, new characters:
The daughters of Tzelophchad.
Machla. Hogla. Milka. Noa. Tirtzah.
The women named out of a list of men, never named before, who speak up
and change history.
The daughters of a man who died with no sons, who stare down a future
of no name, no land, no continual legacy for their families. Like the
Bennett daughters of Pride and Prejudice, who need to find rich
husbands and can hold no land ownership of their own, the Tzelophchad
ladies feel at a loss.
Until they stand for themselves.
Unlike the previous rebellions that were fueled by populist frenzies
and formally quashed, these women worked within the system to make
change, by speaking up and asserting themselves. Knowing that the
system was being built with the intention of justice, they queried it.
They knew that every family was to have a legacy in the land – so why
shouldn’t theirs? They saw that the law had been written to favor men
– so why can’t they, as women, be included?
They asked, and they received.
Moshe, in a fabulous example of due process rather than an immediate
no, takes their plea to God. God updates the law and recognizes the
ability for women to own land, provided they remain married within
their own tribe so the legacy stays “local”. And their names are
immortalized in history, as revolutionaries who achieved more than the
rebels could ever accomplish.
There is also a place for passionate, zealous change.
That’s why this Torah portion is called Pinchas, for the man who
didn’t stop to think, didn’t take a minute to ask permission, and did
what arose in his heart out of fire and passion for God. Today, we can
ask lots of questions about Pinchas and wonder whether our approach
would be so violent, so vengeful, or whether we too want to take the
daughters of Tzelofchad approach.
But maybe it’s not an either or.
Maybe this parsha begins with Pinchas to remind us that at times,
things are so intense, that we need to dig into our passion, our fire,
our flame for God and the justice the Divine stands for. And with
that, we need to feel into our hearts, and recognize the difference
between inflammatory, momentary relief and deep-seated change that
comes from pulling up a problem by its roots. Sometimes, we need to
rip off the band-aid – and sometimes, we can work on the wound slowly
and make changes from within.
Every one of us is doing that work right now.
Every day, I speak to people going through all kinds of things. Some
are experiencing the dissolutions of long-term relationships,
marriages or business partnerships. Some are leaving behind housing or
places they called home, to shift into a different type of living
situation. Some have shifted their way of working, their place of
work, or are finding means to live when their entire industries have
shut down. It’s not easy. We’re all being faced with the hardest
stuff, the stuff we never looked at before, that we thought we’ll get
to “one day”.
That day is today.
The question is: what is your approach?
Will you Pinchas it, and rush into it with fire and passion for sudden shifts?
Will you be a Bnot Tzelafchad, and look for ways to change within the system?
Or can you hold them both together, acknowledging the tension, and do
what the situation calls for at each moment?
I bless us all with the strength to do both, and the wisdom to hold
This week, we entered a period called “Bein Hametzarim” “Between the
narrow places”, the 3 weeks that commemorate the ancient siege of
Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE that led to the eventual destruction
of the Holy Temple. It’s a time that has been traditionally filled
with mourning for thousands of years; but in a time like today, when
we see so much struggle around us, it’s a time to lift ourselves out
of that pain a little bit – and to know that when it comes, it is part
of our process. Wishing us all blessings, sweetness and smoothness in
With blessings for a Shabbat of Shalom, peace, within us and around us.
Silence as Protest
By Rabbi Howard Cohen
Silence in the world of verbal communication can be as complicated to interpret and as deliberate as any word choice. We are often as careful (or should be) about when we choose to remain silent as we are about the words we use to convey a message. In the world of printed words, silence is every bit as powerful as in the audio world. However, it is much more difficult to indicate.
In our Torah, silence is crucial. First and foremost, silence is represented by the “empty” or more precisely, unfilled spaces that surround the letters on the parchment. Think of this as negative space. The unfilled space of the parchment is comparable to what a sculptor takes away from a stone to reveal what is hidden within. Indeed, our sages prescribe in detail the dimensions of this space. (For a fascinating study of this I suggest The Burnt Book by Mark-Alain Ouaknin). For those familiar with Torah reading, you will readily understand when I say that one must know the value or meaning of empty space, i.e. which dots (vowels) must be used, in order to correctly read Torah.
In this week’s Torah portion there are two orthographical indications of silence. To understand their significance it is vital to reread the beginning of Numbers 25. The Israelites have become very intimate with the Moabites. This looseness of the boundaries has greatly saddened Moshe and angered God who in turns brings down a plague of great destructive force. Despite the plague and the obvious lack of approval of Moshe and God, an Israelite leader named Zimri flaunts his affair with Cozbi, a Moabite princess. Pinkhas, in turn, responds by brutally murdering both Zimri and Cozbi. In response God ends the plague.
Here is where the orthographical marks show up: In Numbers 25:12, as a reward, God grants Pinkhas “My pact of peace”. It is for us to understand why he should thus be rewarded. By interpreting the silence in this text, we can surmise that it was also very difficult for the author or redactor of the Torah. (It doesn’t matter whether you believe that the author was a person or God). In Hebrew, the phrase “My pact of peace” is אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י שָׁלֽוֹם, et-beriti shalom. The grammar of this phrase is an unusual form known as a broken construct. The phrase is most likely elliptical for something like “My pact with/of peace” or ‘My pact, a pact of peace’. (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers by Jacob Milgrom, p. 216). Admittedly the missing or “silent” part of the reward is subtle here. Nevertheless, the “silence” can and should be interpreted as kind of protest against God, or at least against this kind of rewarding violence. Understandably, however, the voice of protest is further muted by the ostensible approval of such violence.
The second orthographical mark of “silence” is both less subtle and louder, so to speak. The last verse in this bloody, violent chapter (Numbers 25:19) is interrupted with a musical note called a piska be-emtza. It is an unusual break in a sentence. In this case, it marks the end of the recounting of the violence which precedes the start of yet another census. Traditionally this has been interpreted in two ways: either the census is in preparation for a war with the Midianites (which we encounter in a few chapters), or the previous plague wiped out the remainder of the generation destined to die in the desert. I would like to suggest that the pause is there as a gasp of silence. “What a minute,”I hear the Masoritetic authors of our vowels and musical notes, “you can’t just change the subject after dumping all of that violence on us.” Yet, tradition won’t allow us to literally change the text. We can’t add or fill in more space to the Torah but we can add silence. And so, the Masoretes used silence to register a very loud complaint.
Hebrew text of the word “shalom” with a break in the vertical stroke of the letter “vav”
Editor’s note: There is also a scribal tradition that reinforces Rabbi Cohen’s point: In the calligraphy for Numbers 25:12 in the Torah scroll, the word shalom, “peace”, is itself broken in a very physical way: the letter vav in shalom is written with a broken vertical stroke. The word shalom, in addition to “peace”, means “wholeness” or completion. The symbolism of mandating a broken version of this specific word, in this specific verse, sends a powerful message of protest: a “covenant of peace” founded on zeolotry and bloodshed is flawed at its core. It is no true peace at all. — Rabbi Michael Fessler
Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica
The Izhbitze Rebbe
וירא פינחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן, ויקח וכו’. ולא יעלה ח”ו על הדעת לומר שזמרי היה נואף ח”ו כי מן הנואף לא עשה הקב”ה פרשה בתורה, אך יש סוד בדבר זה, דהנה יש יו”ד נקודות בזנות, הנקודה הא’ מי שמקשט עצמו והולך במזיד לדבר עבירה היינו שהאדם בעצמו מושך עליו היצה”ר ואח”ז יש עוד ט’ מדרגות, ובכל המדרגות שניטל מהאדם כח בחירתו ואי אפשר לו להמלט מעבירה, עד המדריגה היו”ד, היינו מי שמרחיק עצמו מן היצה”ר ושומר עצמו מן העבירה בכל כוחו עד שאין ביכולתו לשמור א”ע יותר מזה, ואז כשנתגבר יצרו עליו ועושה מעשה אז הוא בודאי רצון הש”י, וכענין יהודא ותמר, ואיהי בת זוגו ממש וזה הענין היה גם כאן, כי זמרי היה באמת שומר עצמו מכל התאוות הרעות, ועתה עלתה בדעתו שהיא בת זוגו מאחר שאין בכוחו לסלק א”ע מזה המעשה ופנחס אמר להיפך שעדיין יש בכוחו לסלק עצמו מזה, וזה שמרמז הגמ’ (סנהדרין פ”ב:) ו’ נסים נעשו לפנחס, וכדאיתא שם אלו פירש זמרי והרגו לפנחס היה פטור, כי באמת היה כאן שקול הדעת, כי גם על פנחס היה מקום לבעה”ד לחלוק שמצוי בו מדה הנראה לעינים שהוא כעס כמו שבאמת טענו עליו זאת, והיה הדין בזה שודא דדיינא ופירש ר”ת [תוס’ ב”ב ל”ה. ד”ה שודא] ע”ז שיכולת הדיין ליתן לקרוביו, ולכך יצא פנחס זכאי לפי שהיה קרוב למרבע”ה, וז”ש ושם איש ישראל המוכה, היינו שהקב”ה הראה לפנחס אחר מעשה שעשה עם מי היה המלחמה שלו, שאל יחשוב כי נואף גמור היה ח”ו, ופנחס מחמת שהיה בא מזרע יוסף שנתברר בסיגופים ונסיונות בענין זה ולכך הרע בעיניו מאד על מעשה זמרי, וע”ז נאמר (הושע י”א,א’) כי נער ישראל ואוהבהו, וזה ממש ענין פנחס שהיה דן את זמרי לנואף בעלמא, ע”כ דן אותו קנאין פוגעין בו ונעלם ממנו עומק יסוד הדבר שהיה בזמרי, כי היא היתה בת זוגו מששת ימי בראשית, כמו שמבואר בכתבי האר”י ז”ל, עד שמרבע”ה לא הכניס א”ע בזה לדונו במיתה, ונמצא שפנחס היה במעשה הזה כנער היינו שלא היה יודע עמקות הדבר רק עפ”י עיני שכל אנושי ולא יותר, ואעפ”כ הש”י אוהבו והסכים עמו, כי לפי שכלו עשה דבר גדול בקנאתו ומסר את נפשו.
And you shouldn’t think to say (chas v’shalom) that Zimri was an adulterer (chas v’shalom), for the K”BH wouldn’t make a whole section of the Torah out of an adulterer. Rather, there is a hidden mystery in this matter.
For there are ten levels of lust; the first level is one who adorns themselves and explicitly goes out for sinful purposes. This is a person who presents themselves to the Yetzer ha-Ra. But after this, for the remaining nine levels, at each point a person looses some of their free will, and it becomes impossible for them to resist the sin. By the 10th level, where someone has completely distanced themselves from the Yetzer ha-Ra and protected themselves from the sin with all their power, so much so that it would impossible to protect themselves anymore than they already have — and even then, their desire overpowers them, and they commit the act, at that point they know for certain that their actions are the will of ha-Shem.
This was the case with Yehudah and Tamar, for she was ordained to be his life partner. And it is the same case here, for Zimri was truly protecting himself from all evil desires, yet here arose the thought that she [Kozbi] was his life partner. And afterwards it was not within his power to refrain from this deed.
Yet Pinchas spoke [as if it were] the opposite, that he [Zimri] had the strength to refrain from this. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 82b) alludes to this: “six miracles were performed for Pinchas,” as it brings there, that if Zimri were physically separated [from Kozbi at the time of Pinchas’ attack], and if Zimri [defended himself and] killed Pinchas, then he [Zimri] would not be legally liable [for murder]. Because this was truly a case of reasonable doubt, yet Pinchas took upon himself the role of a chief judge, to determine the motivations as they appeared to him [alone], and he [Pinchas, viewed what was happening through the lens of] anger…Pinchas was a descendant [or the spiritual reincarnation] of Yosef, who went through a process of ethical clarification through trails and tribulations about this very matter [adultery / lust]. Therefore, Zimri’s deeds seemed particularly evil to Pinchas.
Concerning this, the text says (Hoshea 11:1), “For Israel is a foolish youth, yet I love him.” This is truly the case with Pinchas, who abrogated to himself the role of judge over Zimri and ruled him an adulterer, leading him to zealotry and to attack him [Zimri]. Yet the foundational depths of the matter were hidden from Pinchas, namely that she [Kozbi] had been ordained at Zimri’s soul mate from the six days of Creation, as is explained in the writings of the Ari”zal. Even though Moshe Rabbeinu did not involve himself in this capital judgement, we find Pinchas acted as a foolish youth, because he did not understand the depths of the issue, and only saw what the everyday person would see and no more.
Yet even so, ha-Shem loved him, and gave him approval, because he acted in accordance with his own understanding in what [he thought] was a great deed of zealotry, so [ha-Shem] guided him spiritually.
Reb Levi Yitzchak Berdichever
על מה דאמרינן בגמרא פנחס זה אליהו, יש קושיא למה לא אמר בהיפוך אליהו זה פנחס, כי השם של אליהו הוא מאוחר משם של פנחס. והנראה, דהנה כתיב פנחס בשעה שקנא קנאת ה’ צבאות פרחה ממנו נשמתו ואז ברגע זו בא לבחינה שנקרא בשם אליהו, ואחר כך כשחזר אל עצמותו אז חזר לקרוא בשם פנחס ונמצא שם אליהו קודם לשם פנחס בשעה שפרחה נשמתו:
Concerning the statement in the Talmud that Pinchas was identical with the prophet Elijah, the question has been raised why the Talmud did not phrase it in the reverse order seeing that Pinchas lived hundreds of years prior to the prophet Elijah.
The answer to this may be that the Talmud means that Pinchas’ soul departed from him at the moment he committed his deed so that the replacement soul that he was granted was that which would many hundreds of years later inhabit the body of the prophet Elijah. When Pinchas regained his normal frame of mind, he would again be known by the name that everyone was familiar with. At any rate, the name Elijah became part of his personality already before he received the reward for his deed.
From The Hebrew College
Making Atonement for God’s Imperfect World
By Rabbi Daniel Klein
It was classic. Two strikes. Two outs. A runner on second in extra innings of the little league championship game. If my son’s team could get one more strike, they would extend the game.
The pitcher threw a perfect pitch, but the batter connected solidly, hitting a line drive up the middle. It was most likely hopeless as soon as it went past the infield, but the center fielder and catcher did their part valiantly, as the kid in the outfield made an accurate throw to home and the catcher made a diving attempt to tag the runner, who touched home plate just ahead of the tag. My son’s team had lost the little league championship.
The kids were heartbroken. They shed the requisite tears and we parents said the requisite platitudes about playing the game the right way and getting them next year. The main feeling I had though was not sadness and disappointment. Instead, I mainly felt gratitude and relief. No one had screwed up to end the game.
I kept imagining if the ball had been hit to someone who could have made the final out to end the inning but had dropped the ball, or let it go through his legs, which easily could have happened at this level. Learning to deal with the emotional challenge of an error in the midst of a game is an important, if hard, life experience. Making an error to lose the championship, even as a kid, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Being a Red Sox fan for the last 40 years is one of the ways I learned that lesson.
Failures in sports, and life, are inevitable, yet so many of us seem to have a tendency to overly focus on and hold on to them. We look in the mirror and often can barely see past the blemishes. We reflect on our careers and relationships, too easily find confirmation of our unsuitability, and fear we will be unmasked as the imposters part of us is sure we are.
I have come to think that we carry an irredeemable sense of being unworthy that is paradoxically connected to, and maybe even is caused by, our sense that we are or should be perfect. We carry a misguided assumption of a pristine self – of a person who should somehow be more than we are. The brokenness is then shocking, shameful and somehow a definitive statement of the self when held up to the impossible standard of delusional perfection. The result is we pathologize imperfection, as if there is something abnormal about it.
There is a very strange moment in the parashah this week that addresses this human tendency. In explaining how to celebrate the New Moon each month, the Torah says that the Israelites should bring a goat as a purification offering. However, in contrast to every other time a purification offering is prescribed in the Torah, in this case the Torah adds that the purification offering is “for God” (Numbers 28:15). While one could easily dismiss this addition or explain it away, Rabbi Shimon bar Lakish (Resh Lakish) in the Talmud offers a daring and radical interpretation. He suggests that the purification offering “for God” should not be understood as an offering ‘to God’ but rather an offering ‘on God’s behalf.’ The offering is to atone for something God has done (B. Chullin 60b).
How could this possibly be the case? How might we have to understand God and the world for this to be a plausible understanding of the Torah’s instructions to human beings?
The Talmud has a proposal. Resh Lakish’s wild theological suggestion builds from a Talmudic discussion about conflicting statements in the Book of Genesis’ tale of creation. The Torah says that God made two “great lights” (Genesis 1:16) on the fourth day of creation, referring to the sun and the moon. The verse goes on to say, “the greater light to rule the day and the smaller light to rule the night.” Which is it, asks Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi? Are they both great or is only the sun great? Answering his own question, Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi proposes that God originally created the sun and the moon as equals but then diminished the moon. God was responding, in this myth, to the moon suggesting that it is not possible for the sun and moon to rule together. Sadly, the moon was inconsolable as a result of being lessened. To atone for how God hurt the moon, God then gives instructions to bring a purification offering on God’s behalf each new moon.
The theological and teleological implications are significant. God, and the world, are imperfect. Not because human beings have screwed it up, though we certainly have, but because God made it that way, purposefully or not, from the beginning. For human beings, the monthly offering we are to bring to God – on God’s behalf – suggests that our role is to work with God to continue to transform creation. In effect, writes Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in his classic work Halakhic Man, it “adorn[s] [human beings] with the crown of creator and maker.”
To fulfill this role, we first must confront the reality of imperfection. We must acknowledge that we live in a fundamentally flawed world and that we and God are imperfect. This stance is one that understands imperfection not as bug, but as a feature, or at least part of, not a deviation from, creation. In bringing an offering to atone for the reality of imperfection, we not only confront it, we also try to forgive it – in ourselves, the world, God. This acknowledgment and forgiveness, as opposed to primarily anger, shame and alienation, enables ongoing relationship with our imperfect reality and, we hope, more capacity to work to heal our broken world.
From My Jewish Learning
Heroic or Sinful?
Zealous acts are not always heroic.
BY RABBI JAMES JACOBSON-MAISELS
Just before this Torah portion begins, Israelite men have begun sleeping with foreign women. These relations have brought the Israelites to worship foreign gods and have caused, in response, a Divine plague to break out in the Israelite camp. God and Moses then command the Israelites to slaughter the idol worshipers among the Israelites.
In the very next verse, we learn that Zimri ben Salu (an Israelite) and Kozbi bat Tzur (a Midianite) publicly display their relationship as Zimri takes Kozbi back to his tent to sleep with her. Our Torah portion opens with the conclusion of the bloody tale as Pinchas slaughters Zimri and Kozbi and ends the plague (Numbers 25).
A Different Interpretation
The surface meaning of the story seems to indicate that Pinchas has acted properly and saved the Israelites. However, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, a Polish Hasidic rebbe, turns this understanding on its head. He argues that Pinchas is profoundly mistaken. Though it seems that Zimri is acting improperly according to the acknowledged law, he is, according to Rabbi Leiner, following a deeper divine will, which compels him to violate the accepted standards.
Rabbi Leiner teaches that Zimri and Kozbi are cosmic soul-mates and that their joining together is part of the mystical process of tikkun, healing the cosmos, often understood in Kabbalah as the erotic union of masculine and feminine. It is rather Pinchas who, in his immature zealotry and rash judgment, acts wrongly and tragically, failing to see the deeper motivation and attunement of Zimri and Kozbi, failing to see their righteous civil disobedience — their attempt to participate in the healing of the world — for what it is.
Two Kinds of Activism
And so it seems that both Pinchas, according to the pshat (literal meaning) of the text, and Zimri, according to Rabbi Leiner’s understanding, perform acts of radical activism. In the midst of values upturned, they stage their rebellions fervently by taking the law into their own hands and acting on their own beliefs. Yet it seems that both Pinchas and Zimri, though seeking to push their community to adhere to a moral standard, ultimately produce destructive consequences.
This story is a cautionary one for activists, radical or otherwise. In our pursuit of justice, of shaping a world that embraces our sense of morality, how do we ensure that our actions are not rash and clouded, but rather mindful and clear? How do we ensure that these moments of radical activism bring healing and not destruction? Though we might all, with Rabbi Leiner, see appropriate places for civil disobedience, how do we ensure that our actions embody courageous resistance and not oppressive zealotry?
Humility and Introspection
Rabbi Leiner suggests two qualities that can bring us closer to a place of certainty as we make choices about how to act in the world. The first is humility. We should develop a wise, balanced humility that recognizes our own human frailty rather than a crushing “repulsive humility,” as Rabbi Leiner terms it, which makes us see ourselves as worthless or incapable of action.
Humility helps us recognize our fallible human nature and keeps us aware of the fact that there is always the possibility, in some way or element, that we have misjudged our circumstances. Humility leaves us no less committed, but rather bolstered with the ever present possibility of re-examining our commitments to both ideals and action.
The second precursor to ethical action is a deep process of introspection, by which one attempts to make sure that no misplaced ego-driven motives — anger, revenge, self-righteousness, image, fame, fear, desire, etc. — are in fact motivating one’s actions. Appropriate action, Rabbi Leiner teaches, can only be discovered by courageously going within and investigating the place from which our struggle for justice emerges.
Such introspection and humility can prevent us from acting rashly based on our anger and misguided self-certainty. When we do decide to act, we must act with the purity, compassion, and clarity that bring healing rather than division. When we approach activism with humility and deep introspection, we have done our best to ensure that our choices will be right.
The true political activist, then, must also be a spiritual activist. Only thus, our Torah portion teaches, can we avoid the pitfall of zealotry and wisely dance through the different modes of political action in order to bring justice to our world.
This commentary is provided by special arrangement with American Jewish World Service. To learn more, visit http://www.ajws.org.
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Influence and Power
From Rabbi David Kasher
THE BULLS OF THE FESTIVAL – Parshat Pinchas
Hillel always wins.
There is a well-established principle in the Talmud that, though there is always truth in each of the positions of the two greatest schools of ancient Israel – the Houses of Hillel and Shammai – the law follows Hillel. (Eruvin 13b)
So it should come as no surprise that we light our Hanukkah candles in accordance with the position of the House of Hillel, who held that we begin with one candle on the first night, and then add one candle each successive night. The House of Shammai held the opposite: light eight candles on the first night, and then take one away each night. The law follows Hillel, of course – so we go up, not down. No surprise.
More interesting, however, is the reasoning given (by later sages) for these two positions:
The reason for Shammai’s position is that it corresponds to the Bulls of the Festival. And the reason for Hillel’s position is that we always go up in holiness, never down. (Shabbat 21b)
טעמא דב“ש כנגד פרי החג וטעמא דבית הלל דמעלין בקדש ואין מורידין
Hillel’s principle, like his position, is the more well-known. And it frankly sounds better: we always go up in holiness! Who doesn’t want to go up in holiness? Let’s do it!
But then, what do we make of Shammai’s reasoning? Does he think we should go down in holiness? He doesn’t say that. All we read is that he assumes the candles should be lit like the “Bulls of the Festival.” What bulls? What festival?
The reference is to a passage in this week’s parsha. Towards the end of the parsha, we get a long list of all the sacrificial offerings that will be made on each holiday. There are lambs, rams, and bulls; wine, grain, and oils – all in various combinations, for each of the holidays.
Now, there are three “festivals” in the Torah – Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot – and all of them are listed here in Parshat Pinchas. But in the rabbinic lexicon, “The Festival,” undesignated, always refers to Sukkot, the seven-day festival of booths, commemorating the Israelites’ long desert journey. And if we look at the Sukkot offerings, we do indeed see something unusual about the bulls in particular. On the first day:
You shall present a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord: Thirteen bulls of the herd, two rams, fourteen lambs; without blemish. (Numbers 29:13)
וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֨ם עֹלָ֜ה אִשֵּׁ֨ה רֵ֤יחַ נִיחֹ֙חַ֙ לַֽה’ פָּרִ֧ים בְּנֵי־בָקָ֛ר שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה עָשָׂ֖ר אֵילִ֣ם שְׁנָ֑יִם כְּבָשִׂ֧ים בְּנֵֽי־שָׁנָ֛ה אַרְבָּעָ֥ה עָשָׂ֖ר תְּמִימִ֥ם יִהְיֽוּ׃
And then the following day… can you guess?
Second day: Twelve bulls of the herd, two rams, fourteen lambs, without blemish. (Numbers 29:17)
וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשֵּׁנִ֗י פָּרִ֧ים בְּנֵי־בָקָ֛ר שְׁנֵ֥ים עָשָׂ֖ר אֵילִ֣ם שְׁנָ֑יִם כְּבָשִׂ֧ים בְּנֵי־שָׁנָ֛ה אַרְבָּעָ֥ה עָשָׂ֖ר תְּמִימִֽם׃
The same number of rams and lambs there. But the number of bulls has gone down – from thirteen to twelve! And so it continues, each day of the festival: eleven, ten, nine, eight, and seven. One less bull each day.
So Shammai is right. There is a precedent for starting high and winding down. He clearly presumes that when the rabbis construct the later holiday of Hanukkah, they should follow the template set forth by the Torah.
But that begs the question: why does the Torah reduce the number of bulls on Sukkot in the first place? The Passover festival, also seven days long, calls for the exact same offerings every day. What is exceptional about Sukkot?
The most straightforward answer is given by the French medieval commentator, Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor, who writes:
Thirteen bulls, twelve rams, and fourteen lambs – Because Sukkot has extra happiness, for they have gathered in all their fruits, and extra rituals – like the booths, and the lulav branch, and so it also has a extra offerings.
פרים בני בקר שלשה עשר אילים שנים כבשים בני שנה ארבעה עשר – לפי שיש בסוכות תוספת שמחה – שכבר אספו כל פירותיהם, ותוספת מצוה – סוכה ולולב, יש בו תוספת מוסף.
The key to understanding the unusual practices of Sukkot, then, is to see that this is a festival particularly characterized by happiness. That is not an unfounded claim, for it is on Sukkot that we are given the unique injunction (in Deuteronomy 16), to “be happy in your festival.. you will be nothing but happy.” (vv. 14-15) Then, in the Mishna, the rabbis tell us that anyone who has never seen the water-drawing festival during Sukkot, “never witnessed true happiness in his life.” (Sukkah 5:1)
The source of this happiness, Bechor Shor suggests, is the experience of abundance. Sukkot is sometimes called the Festival of Gathering, because it marks the time when you have just gathered in all the produce of your fields. You are surrounded by it. And so, you quite literally begin with everything, and slowly begin the process of eating your way towards less. This is the moment of great excitement, when all the fruits of your labors are in front of you, and you can truly indulge. Later in the year you will think of rationing, of stretching what you have to last through to the next harvest. Later – who knows – you may get close to scarcity. But for now, you are in the midst of riches, and that calls for joy and festive celebration.
With this cycle in mind, God calls for an abundance of offerings on Sukkot, as if to celebrate your abundance with you. And then, as the days go on, fewer and fewer, as if to acknowledge the inevitability of your diminishing resources, and the fading of your joy. For this is the way exhilaration works. It starts strong and then recedes. The Bulls of the Festival, like happiness itself, all come rushing in at once and then, little by little, drop off until, finally, that overwhelming sense of abundance is gone.
That, then, is the debate between Hillel and Shammai about the lighting of the Hanukkah candles. It is not simply a question of whether you count forwards or backwards. It is a debate over whether Hanukkah is primarily a festival of happiness or one of holiness. Remember, Hillel’s logic was not simply that we “always go up, never down”; it was that we go up in holiness. For the sensation of sanctity is cultivated in a fundamentally different way than the sensation of joy. Holiness must be built up, slowly, over time, before it culminates in a peak. Happiness can erupt to its peak in an instant, and we may ride that wave for a time, but eventually it dips back down – not, hopefully, to sadness, but at least to some kind of equilibrium.
So, regardless who won, the very fact that there is a debate teaches us that both sensations are essential parts of the religious experience. There will be times in our spiritual lives when no are focused on building ourselves up, slowly, higher and higher, towards contact with the sacred. And there will be other times when we are called upon to simply rejoice in our abundance, and to “be nothing but happy.”
This is an important point because, all too often, only one or the other of these vital human experiences is honored in a particular religious community. There are always certain religious voices that call for all of life to be made sacred, all things strictly contained and disciplined, with no room for levity or indulgence in the furious pursuit of the holy. And then there are others that preach the gospel of happiness above all. For them, the inner experience of the self is the only real truth, and the yearning of that self to feel bliss becomes the only valid expression of spirituality.
Either of these extremes is a distortion of the full religious personality, which can contain both pleasure and pain, engage in both indulgence and denial, and appreciate both the sacred and the profane. As God is infinite and mysterious, so we must attempt to open ourselves up to the vast and complex range of human experiences of contact with the divine, each one in its proper place and time. There is a season set for everything, a time for every purpose under heaven.
Hanukkah, our tradition has concluded, is a time for holiness. The light of the candles grows steadily over the eight days, until they radiate in their full glow. For we go up in holiness, never down. But let not the School of Hillel tell you that all festivals are meant to be about sanctity. For Shammai is right about one thing – Sukkot represents a different paradigm: a festival of joy. There, we start in the full fires of ecstasy, and only let our light dim over time.
Anyone who wishes to claim that this kind of unadulterated, celebratory happiness is not an appropriate component of the religious experience will have to take their case up against the One who first called for the Bulls of the Festival. And that is a debate I think not even Hillel would win.
Radical Lishma: Do We Need the Zealot for Peace?
by: Shaul Magid on July 27th, 2012
Parshat Pinhas is the one week every year when Jews are compelled to focus on the zealot as a figure of piety and devotion, the zealot as hero, the zealot as savior. Partisans of the ideological left and right use Pinhas as the exemplar of their respective positions. In the Torah, Pinhas represents the true hero, perhaps only supplanted by Abraham and Moses. All three act outside the norms of acceptable behavior and, in doing so, achieve divine recognition and reward. All three are also associated with violent actions: Pinhas and Moses both kill in acts of passion, and Abraham attempts to kill, in response to a command. All three are rewarded in perpetuity.
For those in the vast middle – advocates of moderation, tolerance, and pluralism who believe compromise is the only path to peace – the Pinhas story is a hard sell. How can such an act of unmitigated zealotry and murder (not only of the Israelite Zimri ben Salu who transgressed but the Midianite Kozbi bat Zur who did not) find such divine favor? How can the rabbinic tradition justify Pinhas’s action of taking the law into his own hands by defining his act as “the zealot will attack him” (kana’im pog’im bo). Doesn’t tolerance of this behavior only affirm the claims of those radicals and extremists who act in a similar way? No. But why not? Below I offer a reading of a Hasidic interpretation that addresses why the Torah suggests that the zealot as true radical is the only one who can bring a sustained change to the corrupt nature of the society in which he or she lives. That is, can bring peace. My reading questions the devotion, even addiction, our society has to moderation, a value that while crucial is often a tool for the perpetuation of violence and persecution.
Reproduced below is an interpretation of the Pinhas story by Rabbi Zvi Elimelekh Shapiro of Dinov (1783-1841) that appears in his collected work Igra de-Kala, volume 2 (Brooklyn: Revi’it Press, 1976), 71c:
Pinhas son of Eliezer son of Aaron the Priest (Numbers 25:11). The sages say: God says that Pinhas should take his reward because he was so audacious in his behavior he did not consider honoring his father as an expression of his love for the Creator. And he did not refrain from rebuking Israel. One can ask on this reading: why did Rashi distribute praise to Pinhas for not considering the embarrassment it may have caused Eliezer (his father), it would make even more sense to distribute his praise to him for not considering the embarrassment it may have caused Moshe (his teacher), the father of all the prophets. One could answer this following the law that states honoring one’s teacher comes before honoring one’s father but if one’s father is a sage (talmid hakham) honoring one’s father comes first….Consider that in the Shulkhan Arukh Orakh Hayyim # 167:14 R. Moshe Isserles says that if the father is a priest and a sage, he should come first (even if there is a sage greater than him, in this case Moshe). And Magen Avraham adds “and he will merit longevity for this” (longevity being the reward the Torah mentions for honoring one’s parents,). The secret of God is for one who fears God (Psalms 25:14) (the verse continues, and God’s covenant to those that know God, referring, I think, to the “covenant of peace” brit shalom, granted to Pinhas). Longevity (lit. length of days – orekh yamim) is in the right (yamina), that is, to honor the priest (priesthood being on the side of kindness/the right side in Kabbalah).
Now the initial question can be better understood. Pinhas was not concerned about his longevity (the reward for honoring his father/teacher) enough to refrain from doing this act for the sake of honoring his father. He did this act with zealousness for God. (For that reason) God rewarded him justly (mida ke-neged mida). He gave him eternal life, as the sages say, “Pinhas was Elijah the prophet” who was taken up in a storm (and did not die) (2 Kings 2:11) and will return in the proper time. This is why Rashi says he merited the priestly covenant forever (‘olam) in accordance with his zealotry.
Now we can better understand the rabbinic teaching that the law dictated that he should take his reward because he did not concern himself with his own longevity (that is, he was willing to sacrifice everything). In return he got eternity as a just reward. Understand this.
Focusing less on the egregious act of violence against other human beings and more on trying to understand the inner posture of the zealot who is rewarded with eternal life, R. Zvi Elimelekh offers a way to justify the true zealot and disqualify all false zealots. In some sense, he also offers a critique of moderation, or at least the ways in which moderation fails to achieve its stated goals. Here I suggest the zealot’s act is one of “radical lishma.” That is, Pinhas sacrifices his longevity not for another reward, e.g. 72 virgins, a mitzvah, the land, national pride, honor, or revenge. His act is not a mitzvah, nor is it an explicit command as in God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It is also not an act of defense like Moses’ killing the Egyptian taskmaster. It is simply an expression of pure subjectivity as truth, expressed otherwise, an expression of pure devotion to God. All zealots who act otherwise, and that would likely be all zealots, are false zealots the way prophets are false prophets. They act in accordance with the external dictates but lack to requisite internal conditions.
This portrait also calls into question the moderates among us – those committed to the middle way, the path of compromise and tolerance – by suggesting that only the zealot (do we have zealots for moderation?) who acts in the way of “radical lishma” can bring peace. It was Maimonides who said the middle way was the “golden path.” Yet it was Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk who countered “the middle of the road is for horses.”
This act of “radical lishma” is violent, violent in the way Robert Cover calls law, violent, violent in the way Slavoi Zizek calls revolution violent. The law cuts, Cover says, it draws blood, it excludes, and it amputates. For Zizek, revolution brings about a radical change in collective life, as Pinhas’s act ended the plague and created a “covenant of peace,” brought into existence through that violent act. Aaron was the master of the compromise (Avot 1:12). But that was apparently insufficient. Now he had to share the priesthood with Pinhas, the violent perpetrator of “radical lishma.”
Moderation can resolve disputes, even change regimes, but it often leaves the foundations of the corrupt system in place. This is why Zizek claims Gandhi was the most violent leader of the twentieth century. Other like Stalin, Khomeini, et. al. may have thought they were revolutionaries but simply fed on previous forms of corruption and hatred that already existed and gave them renewed power to work in different ways. Gandhi, on the other hand, changed the society he lived in. His “violence” (enacted as nonviolence) was the true violence of revolution.
So moderates beware: There are many false zealots among us, many who claim to be revolutionaries, most, maybe all, of whom are fakes, many of whom are destructive. But there may be another Pinhas, one who will sacrifice everything for the possibility of everything and equally the possibility of nothing. For Pinhas, it no longer mattered – he sacrificed any reward. But God does not tell us who is who. But God does tell us it is he (or she) who we need. No, not the messiah. Pinhas is more radical than the messiah. The holy zealot is the one whose subjectivity as truth, only expressed after sacrificing everything, saves the nation. Lishma is the template for devotion. Radical lishma, as an act of violence as revolution, it brings devotion to its fulfilled end.
The messiah is born on Tisha b’Av. And what can, and too often does, destroy the world, is precisely what is needed to save it.
This essay was originally written for the Israeli political blogs “Ha-Okets” and “Erez Ha-Emori” as part of a series on opposition and resistance edited by Nitzan Lebovic.
Torah Reading for Week of June 23-June 29, 2013
“Five For One”
By Rabbi Janet Madden, Ph.D. ’11
Parshat Pinchas is often thought of as synonymous with the zeal with which Pinchas takes up his spear and executes the Israelite-Midianite couple Zimri and Cozbi. Actually, however, the brief episode of violence ends the previous parsha. The idolatrous pair is dispatched with a single thrust and the twin plagues of the dangerous influence of foreign women and deadly illness are simultaneously extinguished.
But Parshat Pinchas goes on to recount a more compelling and far more nuanced narrative. This story is driven by a zeal expressed not through violent action but through discernment, reason and patience. Its focus is on five unmarried daughters, orphaned and marginalized women who dare to challenge custom and law. The narrative of the daughters of Zelophehad spans three locations in the Tanach, mirroring the stages of the initiation, pursuit and completion of the women’s quest for justice. In the Torah, in Numbers 27 and 36, the daughters’ petition to be recognized as their father’s heirs results in the promise of inheritance and a subsequent profound legal reform; finally, in Joshua 17, the sisters take possession of their portion of the Promised Land.
Tractate Bava Batra records the rabbis’ praise for the learning, wisdom and virtue of the daughters of Zelophehad; Me’am Lo’ez asserts that their assertion of their claim to their father’s land, enables Moses to pay homage to the Shekhinah. But at its heart, this is a story about the power of the ostensibly powerless to effect a profound tikkun. So important is the theme of the dignity of the individual that in each iteration of the story, each daughter is individually named. Further, the order of the listed names varies in the different segments of the story, a fact that Me’am Loez explains as a way to emphasize the fact that all five women possess equal wisdom.
The naming of each of Zelophehad’s daughters also serves to underscore that the story of these women is the story of the power of the relational. These are not merely biological sisters–their power to challenge the established order stems from the fact that they are true sisters of the heart, united by their shared belief in their cause. Their embodied bond as they stand together “before Moses, Elazar the priest, the chieftains and the whole assembly” and speak not as individuals but in a single, united voice is so compelling Moses that takes their case to the Holy One. And, from the Holy One comes the affirmation of the right that the sisters have asserted as well as the establishment of their case as the precedent for “the law of procedure…in accordance with [the Holy One’s] command to Moses.”
Tractate Semahot explains that the origins of the sisters’ extraordinary vision of equal rights and equal justice is anchored in their belief in the Holy One’s compassionate presence: “When the daughters of Zelophehad heard that Eretz Israel was to be apportioned to the tribes in accordance with the men and not by women, they gathered together to take counsel. One said to the other: “The Omnipresent’s compassion is not like that of flesh and blood. Flesh-and-blood creatures have greater compassion for males than for females. But the One who spoke and the world came into being is not like that. Rather, His mercy extends to all, to the males and to the females…’”
The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is a story worth our careful attention–its three-part structure comes to remind us of the tripartite structure of life–beginning, middle and end. Its five main characters come to heighten our awareness of how our individuality is not obviated when we are in mutually supportive relationships. In their relationships with one another, these orphaned sisters find strength and inspiration that surpasses their individual strengths, and they draw yet more strength and inspiration from the One who is always available to us. May we, too, turn to the Compassionate and Omnipresent One to support our hopes and dreams for a more just world.
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
From Passion to Inner Peace (5773/2013)
Pinchas has an intense passion for God; so intense that he kills two people to protect the integrity of his religious tradition. It’s not a wartime situation; no legal proceeding takes place; and Pinchas offers no admonition, option or warning before he strikes. Moshe and the Israelite elders do not condone the action. Yet God speaks approvingly of Pinchas’ zeal and then adds, “I give him my covenant of peace.”
Rabbi Baruch Epstein (1860-1941) suggests that God approves not of the act but of the purity of Pinchas’ zeal. It’s not unusual to find people committing violence for political purposes, claiming to act in the name of God. But it is unusual to find someone like Pinchas, who is actually moved by spiritual passion. The catch? We humans cannot tell the difference; only God can.
If the act itself was not praiseworthy, then the “covenant of peace” is probably not a reward. Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893) says it’s a promise of protection from endless inner recrimination. Once the adrenaline rush of the zeal has subsided, and Pinchas reflects on his actions, he will find himself rocked with the turmoil of negative self-judgment. God promises tranquility at the end of the process.
All of us make mistakes. Often we believe passionately that our actions are motivated by the highest good. And sometimes we regret the actions, their consequences, and their effect on our own souls. At those times, perhaps we can take comfort in these two commentaries on the parsha. At times of great passion, we cannot truly discern whether our motivations are pure. When remorse sets in, we should know: after an honest process of self-reflection, inner peace will return.
Inspired by Nechama Leibowitz
From Rabbi David Ingber
From Rabbi Gershon Winkler
A Teaching from Gershon…
A tragic story. The prophet of the Midianites, Bil’am, fails in his repeated attempts to cast a spell on the Israelites on behalf of the Moabites through whose land they are crossing to get toward Canaan. But the prophet knows that the one weakness certain to undermine the Israelites in the eyes of their God, and thus to cause their downfall, is – what else? Idolatry: the worship of deities other than God Itself. And the most proven way to make the Israelites do that is through – what else? Sex. So he suggests to the the Moabites that they send their daughters out to mingle with the Israelite men and to seduce them into worshiping their deities by seducing them sexually. And it works. It works so well that even the Midianites – otherwise sworn enemies of the Moabites – send out their daughters as well, and any of the Israelites are sexually seduced into worshiping the Moabite deity Ba’al P’or. God then tells Moses to order the tribal leaders to carry out the summary execution of all those involved in the worship aspect (Numbers 25:1-3). Quid pro quo – Latin for: “cut yourself off from the source of your life force and your life force is severed.”
But it gets worse.
Before anyone can strike him, a clan chief of the tribe of Shim’on brings his Midianite lover to the doorway of the tent of Moses and they begin to have sex right then and there, just to spite, just to taunt, to make a point: “Hey, Moshe! Look! Anything wrong with this? After all, you yourself are married to a Midianite woman!!”
Those not involved in the fiasco are hovering around his tent waiting for their fearless leader to do something, say something, but Moshe is in a state of shock and does nothing. However, his nephew’s son Pinchas, grandson of Aharon, acts immediately and runs a spear through the couple, killing them both instantly, and instantly the entire tragic scenario comes to a sudden end and the severed Life Force is restored to the nation. The wording in the Torah: “And the ma’gay’fah [epidemic, or plague] ceased” (Numbers 25:6-8).
But the people are in an uproar over Pinchas’ action without due process and are about to gang up on him when God intervenes and declares that by his action Pinchas forged a special covenant with God, and is protected. Strangely, the covenant is labeled B’reet Shalom – Covenant of Peace (Numbers 25:12).
This portion of the Torah narrative happens to be officially called “Balak.” Why would we honor a Moabite king who sought our demise, by naming a section of our holy Torah after him?
This is perhaps one of the most puzzling narratives in the Torah, and as such it is deeply encrypted with important life lessons. And to understand its mystery, we need to ask one more question: What was so special about Pinchas’ zealous act that it “stopped the plague”? Weren’t the tribal leaders instructed to slay those of their tribes who were worshiping Ba’al P’or ? (Numbers 24:4-5). It would have been a matter of a short time before Zimri would have died anyway at the hands of one of his tribal leaders. So what was so special about Pinchas’ action? And why would the elders want to take him to task for performing an action that even they were instructed to carry out anyway? And so much so that God had to intervene on his behalf!!?
According to the 13th-century Rabbi Moshe ben Nachmon (Ramban/Nachmonides), a slower, closer examination of the narrative will help us fill in the blanks and bring some more clarity to the events of this story.
Moshe is told to gather all of the tribal leaders and to order them to slay all those of their respective tribes who are actively involved in the orgiastic worship of Ba’al Pe’or. Nowhere, Rabbi Moshe points out, does it then say anything like: “And they did according to what Moshe instructed them…” like it would say on every other occasion of Moshe giving orders. What it does say next is that Zimri now shows up – and he happens to be one of the tribal leaders himself! So he is approaching the tent of Moshe along with the other tribal leaders who were summoned, and he has his Midianite lover with him and they go right at it in front of everyone else who has responded to Moshe’s call for assembly. “Hey, Moshe! You called us to do something about all this? Why? What is wrong with having sex with Midianite women? Aren’t you married to one? You and your nephew El’azar the High Priest?” And those assembled are in shock at what they now witness one of their own doing right in front of their eyes and the eyes of Moshe, which is why they break out in tears. They know why they have been summoned. Their leader needs to instruct them as to what they need to do to put an end to the fiasco, the very fiasco now being played-out in front of them by one of their own!! A leader of the tribe of Shim’on! So they are all in a state of shock and know not what to do!! God had said: “Tell the leaders of the tribes to slay those of their tribes who are doing this thing” – and behold! One of those very leaders is doing that very thing!! What can we do? It’s one thing for a leader to pass judgment and sentence on a follower, but on a fellow leader!?? Remember how later, our first king, Sha’ul, has the same problem, that of bringing himself to execute the king of the Amalekites (First Samuel 15:9). If a king is liable, that would mean Sha’ul himself could one day be liable, which is threatening. And here, too, in the story of PInchas, the leaders are in a deadlock. How can they bring themselves to execute one of their own?
But “Pinchas son of El’azar son of Aharon the Ko’hayn saw…” – he saw beyond the façade of authority, the blinding fog of religious politics and leadership elitism, and grabbed a spear and put an end to the lull, to the standstill, to the not-knowing-what-to-do, to the holding of the nation’s breath. He essentially gave the people CPR and the bleeding stopped. The nation was being usurped, drained of their life blood, wounded by the seduction of an illusion that was dragging them farther and farther from reality and truth. Pinchas slew the vampirical onslaught and restored their blood flow, brought warmth back into the body of the nation that had grown cold as its life force ebbed. Thus: “Pinchas…restored My Warmth,” says God, the literal translation of chama’tee, usually rendered “My Wrath.” Cham is Warmth. Chama’tee – My Warmth.
The second part of the story of Pinchas recounts the bold action of the five sisters – Milkah, Tirzah, Chog’lah, Macha’lah and No’ah — who challenge Moshe’s instruction concerning land apportionment in Canaan. Land was to be distributed to the male heads of each household, but these sisters had no brothers and their father had died during the desert trek. They felt that the land which would have been allocated to their family was now going to skip right over them to the next male kin, and that this was unfair (Numbers 27:1-5). God agrees with them and tells Moshe to qualify his instructions to include women in land apportionment when there are no males in the family (Numbers 27:6-8). The appearance of this story alongside that of Pinchas is an important arrangement. Because we can easily be intimidated by the Pinchas story and shy away from any act of disobedience to the authorities. The Torah is here presenting a scenario of zealous fundamentalism alongside a scenario of open-minded liberalism. For along come the Sisterly Five and challenge Moshe’s ruling about land apportionment, to remind us that challenging the authorities when you feel something amiss about their ruling is totally appropriate. In fact, later rulings obligated you to bring a sin offering if you did nothing and just went along with a ruling you felt was amiss (Talmud Bav’li, Hora’yot, Mishnah 1). There is a vast difference between challenging a teaching as opposed to challenging the person who brings that teaching, thus making it personal. Zimri made it personal, as did Ko’rach and his gang. The five sisters went at the message, not the messenger.
Finally, the third highlight of the story of Pinchas concerns the first initiation, the first ordination, when Mosheh transmits his leadership powers to his disciple Yehoshua (Numbers 27:18-23).
This portion of the Torah then highlights these three important factors, all of them related to Torah:
1. Defending the honor of Torah and her teachers
2. Challenging the authority of Torah and her teachers
3. Transmitting teachings of Torah and her initiation
We need to stand up and defend our Torah when necessary against the onslaught of those who seek to rip her apart and denigrate her; we need to challenge our Torah when circumstances call for actions or omissions not sanctioned by the spirit and intent of Torah; and we must be willing to teach others and to transmit to others the powers invested in us.
Brought home to the individual person’s life walk, these three principles translate as follows: We need to be ready to stand up and defend our personal honor, our individual selfhood and that of others; we need to be ready to challenge our stance and our beliefs, our perspectives, to weigh possibilities of other truths, and of other opinions and perspectives; and we need to be ready to share our gifts with others and not flaunt our expertise on things, our mastery, but to generously share it with others to empower others as well.
Pinchas performs all three, and is therefore given the Covenant of Peace, of Wholeness, Completeness. He defends authority and the honor of Mosheh and God through his zealous act. He challenges the authority and honor of the Torah, of the Word of God, by taking up arms to begin with, as a ko’hayn is not permitted to become associated with human death in any way (Leviticus 21:1). And in his later incarnation as the zealous prophet Eliyahu (Midrash Tehilim 63:3), he transmits divine power and wisdom to his disciple Elisha (First Kings 19:16 and Second Kings 2:9). His initiation of Elisha, by the way, is the only account of ordination, other than the Moshe-to-Yehoshua one, mentioned throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
It bears note that Pinchas/Eliyahu eventually winds up being sentenced to an eternity of wandering about as an anonymous hobo as well as myriad other characters, his role being to bring comfort to strangers in trouble. Once a year, on Passover, we leave a goblet of wine for him on the table, a little treat for the old man. Why was he sentenced thus? In order to tone down his overzealousness. Zealotry is nice, but it too has its extremes that need to be kept in check.
What Pinchas did on that fateful day will never be appreciated as something good in our eyes. It was far from not only politically correctness but also from religious correctness. The fact that God intervened on his behalf and established with him a Covenant of Peace tells us that it was the right thing to have been done in that particular moment and situation, whether we can wrap our minds around it or not, and to trust that it was. But lest you think you too can do this and act with zeal in defense of God’s honor by summarily killing people, along comes the Sisterly Five and demonstrate that you haven’t got a clue whose side God is on in any given moment, so don’t try it. Pinchas was lucky. Clearly, the ancient rabbis taught, there was a lynch mob at his throat the moment he dared do what he did (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 20:25).
Finally, why is there a portion of our holy Torah that we name after the Moabite king who started all this, to begin with? Balak! And what did this bad man do to deserve becoming an ancestor of Ruth, from whom would emerge David, Solomon, and eventually, one day, the Messiah??!!!
First of all, we can’t blame Balak for panicking and hiring Bil’am to curse the Israelites, and when that fails, to heed Bil’am’s suggestion of seduction to idolatry by sex. We can’t even find out the true intentions of other nations in our own times with our superior technology and systems of diplomacy, so when hordes of stranger numbering in the millions are covering Balak’s landscape like locusts, PLUS news has it that they overcame such mighty warriors as the Amorites and Amalekites along the way, Balak rightly does what any leader of a people would do. He looks for any way to frustrate, weaken, or outright repel what appears clearly as a major threat, regardless of what we know, sitting on the outside of the story looking in. And God is not Jewish, remember. God judges everyone where they are at in their own right, not against the backdrop of what their relationship is with Israel. And God sees, as the Torah clearly implies, that Balak is scared and means well as the elected defender of his nation, and credits Balak with offering up all those dozens of sacrifices in prayer to God (Bamidbar 22:9, 23:1, and 29-30), for “God does not overlook compensation for every positive action of every person, regardless” (Talmud Bav’li, Baba Kama 38b). And so, in the merit of all those prayers and sacrifices, Balak is gifted with the emergence from his loins of Ruth (Talmud Bav’li, Sanhedrin 105b), from whom emerges David and eventually the Moshiach, thus taking Balak’s well-intentioned but ill-directed actions and healing them with Ruth, creating a hybrid of Jew and Moabite toward the ultimate redemption.
Yes, granted, they did wrong. As descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, they should have been more hospitable. Shame on them. And then there is the individual act of sacrificing to God that Balak did, which, even though everything else was wrong, God does not hold back on accounting for the good anyone does, even if everything around it is bad. Like Lot’s daughters who willingly and premeditatively commit incest with their father. Even though this was an abhorrent act, an abomination, illicit and immoral, they are praised for the goodness and purity of their intent (they presumed all of mankind had been destroyed and wanted to replenish the Earth). Not only are they praised for the good within the bad, but the elder daughter is double-praised for initiating this abhorrent act!! and is rewarded with having Ruth come from her (Talmud Bav’li, Baba Kama 38b in reference to Bereisheet 19:31-35). And just as God sees the good for what it is, God also sees the bad for what it is. So Balak is rewarded with Ruth for the good (Talmud Bav’li, Horayot 10b), AND we were also not permitted to go to war against them (Deuteronomy 2:9)…and penalized with rejection from entry into the nation of Israel for the bad (Deuteronomy 23:4).
We believe in a God who does not judge us blanketly, but considers each and every act and choice for its own individual merit, as we see in the story of Yishmael, whose descendants are destined to war against us, yet God “Listened to the cry of the lad where he was at” in the moment (Genesis 21:17). Or like the Talmudic account of Pentakakus, the pimp who devoted his life to running a brothel, yet the rains fell during a drought on his account, because of one good thing he once did for a desperate woman, thus preventing her from prostituting herself (Talmud Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:4 [or 4a-5b]).
The 18th-century Rabbi Yisroel Ba’al Shem once explained it this way. “God hears all prayers, even of the wicked. The difference? The righteous might pray for something that is essentially not good for them, but God may grant their yearning anyway. And then, when the righteous one realizes it was wrong for them, they cry out to God once again, and God redeems them from their plight, as is written: ‘God performs the will of those who are in awe of God, and then listens to their crying out and rescues them’ (Psalms 145:19). Now, with a thief it is different. A thief might pray to God with utmost sincerity for success in sneaking into someone’s home and robbing them. And God might heed their prayer if the thief is about to steal from someone who has been sentenced from Above to have his property stolen. But then, if the thief gets caught, the second prayer of the thief, that God rescue him — may not be heeded” (Keter Shem Tov).
Torah is not a philosophy. It is a living study. It is a continuous cycle of exploration and application, of wrestling and resolution, of clarity and confusion. It is a perfect guide for biding our time in an imperfect world.
Deal with it.
Priesthood of Peace 5770/2010
While serving as a security guard at the mishkan (sanctuary), Pinchas murderously defends its sacred boundaries. God seems to respond to the violence by giving Pinchas a promotion: a special brit shalom and brit kehunat olam – a covenant of peace and an eternal covenant of priesthood. How can we, with a peacetime sense of Jewish ethics, understand God’s response?
Staying within the peshat (the simple narrative) of the story, perhaps God worried that Pinchas was doing his policing job a little too well. Perhaps God was saying, “Okay, Pinchas, you’re not really suited for security guard. How about we try priest?”
Moving to the level of derash (the moral of the story), perhaps the answer lies in a play on words. The name Pinchas can also be read as pen chas – lest you become angry. Perhaps the important message is not the fate of the character Pinchas, but the teaching that whenever we become angry, we need to remind ourselves of some of the basics of our Jewish covenant: we should be priests of peace in the world.
Finally, on the level of sode (hints to the Divine nature), perhaps the covenant of peace/priesthood was a reminder of the priests’ role as a channel for the priestly blessing. The priestly blessing says, yisah HaShem panav elecha v’yasem licha Shalom – May God lift the Divine face towards you and place upon you peace. Perhaps the face of God is the face of peace. When we allow ourselves to see this true face, we turn from violence to nonviolence.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
GUT FEELING (PINCHAS) 2008
Was Pinchas a large man
with powerful arms
and excellent aim
were Cozbi and Zimri conscious
of imitating the keruvim
who embraced inside the mishkan
did the cherubs turn their backs
when Pinchas speared the lovers
through the belly
The Ishbitzer tells us
their souls were connected
and death brought them freedom
but I wonder
how many interfaith couples
will experience this parsha
like a blow to the gut
like proof they’re not wanted
like exile all over again
From Rav Kook
Pinchas: The Tamid Offering Performed at Sinai
“This is the regular daily burnt offering, like the one performed at Mount Sinai; an appeasing fragrance, a fire-offering to God.” (Num. 28:6)
•Why does the Torah stress the fact that the daily Tamid offering was performed at Mount Sinai?
•Why is this offering described as both an ‘appeasing fragrance’ and a ‘fire offering’?
The Fragrant Service of the Forefathers
Even before the Torah’s revelation, the Jewish people merited an extraordinary closeness to God. The Sages taught that Abraham kept the entire Torah, even before it was revealed at Mount Sinai. And his descendents learned from him, continuing his legacy of holy living.
If the Jewish people already adhered to the Torah’s precepts, what did the Revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai accomplish?
The sanctity of Israel before Sinai was not on a constant, permanent basis. The Midrash uses an unusual term to describe the mitzvot performed by the Avot. It refers to the service of the forefathers as reichaniot — fragrant. What does this mean? Their holiness contained elements of nobility and beauty, an inner spiritual richness and individual greatness. But this spiritual path was not firmly grounded in the world of actions. It was of a transient nature, like a passing aromatic fragrance.
The Concrete Sanctity of Sinai
At Mount Sinai, the sacred fire was etched in our souls on a practical, tangible level. We accepted the commitment to keep the Torah in action and deed – “We will do and we will obey.” For this reason, the Torah emphasizes that the Tamid offering was performed at Mount Sinai. This daily offering epitomizes the constant, concrete sanctity that was engraved in the very essence of Israel at Sinai.
The two images of the Tamid offering — an appeasing-fragrance and a fire-offering — teach that it combines both of these paths of holiness.
The daily offering retains the abstract beauty of the Patriarch’s individual spirituality. It still exudes an appeasing-fragrance, recalling the fragrant service of the Avot. But it also reflects the day-to-day, concrete sanctity of Sinai. It was a fire-offering. Like fire, it acted upon and ignited the physical world, introducing light and holiness into the realm of action and deed.
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, pp. 131-132)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
Pinchas: Atonement for the New Moon
The Torah describes the offerings presented for each holiday, starting with those brought on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the lunar month.
“This is the burnt-offering of the new month, throughout the months of the year. And one male goat for a sin-offering to God.” (Num. 28: 14-15)
There is a very peculiar Talmudic tradition about the purpose of the new moon sin-offering. For whom does this offering atone?
The Talmud (Chulin 60b) explains that this is literally a “sin offering for God.” The offering comes to atone for God, as it were, for making the moon smaller than the sun. (According to the Midrash, the sun and the moon were initially created the same size. The moon complained, “Is it possible for two kings to rule with one crown?” and was punished by being reduced in size.) For this reason, a sin-offering is presented with the appearance of the new moon.
Is it possible to say that God sinned? That God needs atonement?
Restricting the Infinite
This monthly offering relates to the essence of the creation process. The very act of creation is problematic, confining infinite holiness within the finite boundaries of time and place. This constriction is only possible if there is a continual process of renewal, whereby the physical limits are gradually released, expanding the material boundaries.
In Hebrew, the words “month” (chodesh) and “new” (chadash) share the same root. The new month signals renewal and advancement.
The animal brought for this sin-offering is a goat. Why a goat? The goat by nature is a destructive animal, devouring not only the leaves but the branches and roots, destroying the foliage and eroding the earth. Within the order of creation, the universe requires destructive forces, in order to break down the limiting borders and push forward the renewal of existence to ever higher levels. In this context, those phenomena that would seem to be purely negative and destructive are redeemed and given cosmic significance.
The principal offering for the new month was not the sin-offering, but an olah, an all burnt-offering. The word olah means to raise up or elevate. The atonement for the constrictive nature of the physical universe – as symbolized by the reduction in the moon’s size – is through the combination of the destructive forces (the goat offering) with the continual renewal and elevation of the world (the olah offering).
(Gold from the Land of Israel , pp. 278-279. Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 165)
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
REPRINT FROM RABBI BRADLEY SHAVIT ARTSON’S 5765
A Torah that Mirrors Real Life
Torah Reading: Numbers 25:10 – 30:1
Haftarah Reading: I Kings 18:46 – 19:21
After the Israelites sin at Baal-Pe’or, God lashes out in anger, ordering Moses to “Take all the heads of the people and have them publicly impaled.” Before Moses can act on God’s command, a leading Israelite named Zimri and a leading Midianite woman named Cozbi enter the sacred site of the Tent of Meeting and there, before the entire people, begin to copulate. This arrogant escalation of sin inflames Pinhas, the leader of the Levitical guards, who grabs a spear and impales the two sinners.
While most modern readers are shocked and appalled by the bloodshed of this scenario, even more horrifying is God’s response: The bestowal of an eternal pact of friendship (briti shalom) to Pinhas and his heirs.
Why would God mandate the death of all the leaders, innocent and guilty alike? And why would God reward Pinhas for a violent and impulsive act of killing?
Jewish tradition offers small comfort to those in search of only sweetness and elevation from religion. Unlike other religious traditions that emphasize only the positive, or that seek to uplift by focusing only on the sublime and the beautiful, Judaism has always adhered to the reality principle: Religion must illumine life as it actually happens, not some saccharine edited version that would be useless in times of trouble.
Life can be bloody and unfair. Violence can sweep out of control and take the lives of innocent in a twinkling. We have but to scan the daily paper to read of innocents killed along with the guilty. So, in reality, our problem with the story of Pinhas is not that it doesn’t resemble real life enough, but that it reflects reality too faithfully.
The truth is that we do live in a world in which the innocent often pay for the deeds of the guilty. The Torah understood that truth, and because of that insight, provides stories and leaders capable of providing wisdom and guidance in the storms life can bring. The challenge of the Torah is the challenge of looking at life without blinders.
The Rabbis understood as well. The Mekhilta, (3rd Century Israel), and ancient Midrash to Exodus, comments that “once permission has been given to the ‘destroyer’ to do injury, it no longer discriminates between the innocent and the guilty.” Once violence is unleashed, even if it originally was directed against evil, it cannot be directed with any pretense of precision. That insight is only to clear from a history of just wars and their innocent victims.
Rabbi Eleazar ben Shammua made a similar point in Sifre Ba-Midbar: “As it is impossible for a doornail to be taken out from the door without extracting some of the wood, so it is impossible for Israel to separate itself from [Baal-] Pe’or without losing souls.” Because human beings live in society together, the good and the innocent regularly pay for the sins and the selfishness of the wicked.
The bicyclist breathes in the soot of the motorcyclist, and the davvener suffers the assault of a blaring radio.
Our tradition records another explanation for God’s condemnation of all the leaders of Israel at Baal-Peor: In Ba-Midbar Rabbah, Rabbi Judah insists that all of Israel’s leaders share the responsibility for the sin of Baal-Peor by virtue of their authority. If they had been truly righteous and diligent leaders, the Israelites would not have been tempted to sin.
In a democracy where all of us have the power to vote and to lead, we become responsible for the sins of our own society. The gap between rich and poor, the staggering rate of teen pregnancy and child poverty, violence against ethnic, religious, or sexual minorities, bias against women, pollution–all these are our responsibility because we allow them to continue.
The violence of Baal-Pe’or, then, is a clarion call to become involved. Either part of the solution or part of the problem, we can turn to the Torah to reveal a picture of real life, a portrait designed to empower us to realize holiness in the world. Or we can close the scrolls and try to keep our eyes closed, our ears plugged. In either case, the innocent are suffering.
What are you going to do about it?
From Reb Zalman
Zelophehad: The 50th Gate
The following comes from Reb Zalman on this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas. [NOTES by Gabbai Seth Fishman]
This week, in addition to determining the initial division of the land among the tribes,
[NOTE: Based upon the count of males in each tribe from the time when they had first entered Egypt and also the count of males in the census taken in this portion (Numbers 26:1 ff)],
a system of inheritance was also set up with the goal of preserving the initial parcels of land as an eternal inheritance for each patriarch’s progeny.
While the law of the Torah concerning inheritance granted the land to the male heirs, there had been no provision for a person who died with only female offspring.
The five daughters of Zelophehad came to Moses, (Numbers 27:1 ff), and asked him if they could inherit their father’s land. The Torah tells us, (Numbers 27:5), that Moses brought their just claim to God and the word for “just claim” in Hebrew, MishpataN has a final letter Nun written larger:
וַיַּקְרֵב משֶׁה אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטָן לִפְנֵי יְיָ
[NOTE: According to tradition, when a Sofer writes this phrase in a Torah, the final Nun is written bigger. The letter Nun is 50 in Gematria.]
The Kabbalah tells us of 50 Gates of understanding, called Binah. It is precisely to that 50th gate that Moses had to appeal for an answer to the claim of the women. While the first 49 Gates given to us are in reach of our understanding and can be accessed with our awareness in conditions of purity,
[NOTE: For example, when we consciously count Sefirot and the Omer],
the 50th gate is beyond our understanding.
Besides the larger Nun, another similar point is that the “just claim” was brought lifney YHVH / before Yah. In other contexts in relation to Yom Kippur, lifney YHVH / before Yah is understood to mean beyond, as in higher than the nameable God, a reaching into the infinite.
[NOTE: Right brain, intuition, faith-full, open minded, open bodied, waiting to receive, hopefully expectant, (and cf., Leviticus 16:30.)]
The larger Nun (50), and lifney YHVH, together point to transcending time and space to the place from where the messianic awareness of the healed planet, and societies, draws its nurturing.
While one can find a difference of status of males over females in many of the laws of Scripture,
[NOTE: As, e.g., with the laws of inheritance given to Moses before the daughters brought their claim],
in the messianic era that difference in status will no longer prevail. The different status only comes when we see the black letters of the Torah as being the figure within a white ground. But, as we have learned from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, in the messianic era, the white letters of the Torah are to be made accessible and legible.
[NOTE: This and other Levi Yitzchak teachings can be found here: http://www.rzlp.org/wordpress/?p=162%5D
In order to do justice to the feminine aspect of life, Moses had to reach into the 50th gate, and bring the daughters’ just claim lifney YHVH / before Yah.
Despite our best efforts to bring about Tikkun Olam / repairs of the world through understandings offered to us by the 49 Gates, we have not been successful. But with women having become involved in the study and dissemination of Torah, and with their ordinations as rabbis, they may be the ones to help us more directly mediate all awareness and teaching of the 50th gate of understanding.
It is my sincere hope and prayer that the addition of empowered, committed women, latter day “daughters of Zelophehad” will help us all and lead us to an effective way of Tikkun Olam.
In honor of Parshat Pinchas, my birth parashat, I post here the drash I gave six years ago on the occasion of my 50th birthday. Shabbat Shalom
Fifty years ago, July 16th, 1954, on the Friday evening of Shabbat Pinchas, I came into this world. This was not my scheduled arrival date. As my mother can tell you, I was due to arrive two weeks earlier. Now, I am not, by nature, a tardy person. In fact, I tend to err on the early side. So why would I start my adventure on this earth two weeks late. I’ve come to think that the answer lies in the Torah. The weeks before, the weeks containing Chukat, Balak, Korach—while fine parshiot—are not my parshiot. I think it is no coincidence that I waited to be born on Shabbat Pinchas. Each year, for the past six years, as I study Torah, this parsha speaks to me in a personal way. Each year I see more clearly why I waited.
The parsha begins with the “kinah” the passion of Pinchas, and later on, we hear of the “ruach” the spirit of Joshua. Both strong manifestations of their connection to God and to the Jewish people. While I don’t approve of the zealotness of Pinchas, and I am not so presumptuous to compare myself to the prophet Joshua, I cannot deny the “ruach” that exists within me, the passion I feel as I enter that sacred space of connection with the Transcendent.
Then there are the two long, seemingly endless, sections in the parsha where the words and the trope seem to repeat again and again. First, there is the counting of the Israelites, with its long list of genealogy. Is it really necessary to hear ALL those names? But it is the hearing of the names that is important. While reading the text with your eyes, you can skim through the list—yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, that’s how many we were, let’s get on with the journey to the promised land. But ours is an oral tradition for a reason. We are to hear the reading of the names, listen to the refrain, reminding ourselves of our ties to the generations past, the foundation of our future. Hearing the chants leaves an imprint in our minds, our hearts, our souls. It is a joy for me to chant those names and the rest of the words of the Torah that I leyn each year. This calling has become integral to my Jewish practice. I read with the kavannah, the intention, to bring these names, these stories, these words to our community. To bring the poetry and the beauty of the Torah to you, to touch that part in all of us that stood at Sinai.
The second section of repetition appears at the end of the parsha, with the recitation of the cycle of the Jewish calendar, and the offerings associated with each event. We hear about the daily offerings, those for Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and the festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Once again, the oral tradition is apparent as the particulars of each sacrifice are chanted. Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the sacrificial offerings have been replaced with offerings of prayer. As my commitment to Jewish practice has grown each year, I have become attuned to these daily, weekly, and yearly cycles. Making room for prayer each day, week, and through the year has given me a spiritual strength I never thought possible. Prayer has become the centerpoint of my spiritual practice—bringing it all together. I started my practice with Shabbat, learning to partake of what Abraham Joshua Heschel calls “The Palace in Time.” When I began my meditation practice at Makor Or with the 6am sittings, I started going to morning minyan. At first, my attitude was, well, I’m here and so I might as well go, it is a mitzvah. After all, unlike the Judaism of my youth, I could now be counted as part of the 10 needed to make minyan. What took me by surprise was the way saying morning prayers would touch me, and how important it would become to start of my day from that sacred space.
The yearly cycle of festivals has also gained an important marking as I travel on my life path. It is an integral part of the Makor Or practice, as we learn to use these times to check in with ourselves, looking to the texts and the teachings of these rituals to guide us. These rituals became an extra source of strength for me while I was going through chemotherapy treatment. My first infusion was on the 1st of Nissan, the first day of the year in Torah time. My last infusion was on the 49th day of the Omer, the last day of counting, the eve of Shavuot. Instead of counting the days like a prisoner in a cell, holding on until it would be over, I was able to let go, count each day as one that brings me closer to revelation, to use my illness to become more aware life rather than focus on death.
But there is one aspect of Parshat Pinchas that comes closest to me, that I feel is the reason it was destined to be my parsha. In this parsha, there is mention, by name, of nine women—nine women. So often in the Torah we to have look between the lines to find the stories of women, yet here, out front, nine are named, giving them a true presence in our heritage.
We have Cozbi bat Tzur, daughter of a Midianite chieftain, killed by Pinchas. Now, granted, she is certainly not one to be emulated but still, she gets a name, unlike Potiphar’s wife or even Pharaoh’s daughter.
Towards the end of the counting and the listing of the genealogies, we hear “v’shaam bat Asher, Sarach” – The name of Asher’s daughter was Sarach—the only granddaughter of Jacob who is ever named. We never learn anything else about her. Her story is clouded in mystery, yet the mention of her name must note something of importance. One story is that she is the one who told Jacob of Joseph’s survival, and lived long enough to tell Moshe where to find Joseph’s grave.
When counting the clans of the Levites, we hear for the first time, the names of Moshe’s parents—both his father, Amram, and his mother, Yocheved. Miriam, his sister, is also named.
Just to hear four women’s names mentioned in one parsha is somewhat radical. But there are the other women mentioned—the daughters of Zelophchad, whom I have dubbed “Women with Chutzpah” These women call to me the most. Who are these women, and what does their story say to us today?
We first meet the five sisters, Machlah, Noah, Chauglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, in the list of the genealogy. There, we learn only that their father, Zelophchad, of the tribe of Manasseh, had these five daughters—he had no sons. But unlike Asher’s daughter Sarach, we hear more about them. After all the tribes are counted and named, including the tribe of the Levites, their story is told.
These five daughters of Zelophchad, once again mentioned by name—Machlah, Noah, Chauglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, came forward. They stood before Moshe, before Elazar HaCohen—the priest, before the Nese’im, the chieftains, and before the entire Ai-dah—the entire community. They stood at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and stated their case:
Our father died in the wilderness. He was not part of the rebellion of Korach. And he left no sons. Why should his holding in the Land of Israel be lost because of this—give us a place among our tribe. Moshe brings their case to God.
God says, the words of these women are right, you should give them their place in their tribe—transfer their father’s share of land to them. And so, the laws of succession are set down. The first of these laws—if a man dies with no sons, his property will transfer to his daughter.
Before the daughters of Zelophchad spoke up, Jewish law dictated that only sons were in line to inherit from their father—any sisters were excluded from the inheritance. The daughters of Zelophchad stood up to this injustice. Some commentators note that in a time when so many of the Israelites were pining and whining to go back to Mitzriyim, to Egypt, these women were looking forward, wanting their portion of the Promised Land. Other commentators are impressed with the manner with which the daughters of Zelophchad made their request. They did not rebel, like those who stood with Korach. Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish says that the women went through the channels Moshe set up for these types of disputes on the advice of his father-in-law Yitro—first they went to the chiefs of tens, who judged that since it was a case concerning inheritance, it needed to go to a higher authority. They then went to the chiefs of fifties, then hundreds, then thousands, then the chieftains. All gave the same reply. When the daughters went to Elazar, he told them to go to Moshe.
So, the daughters of Zelophchad, Machlah, Noah, Chauglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, stood in front of the whole community—including all the chieftains, Elazar HaCohen, and Moshe, in a place for all to see, and stated their case. And Moshe, seeing the deference shown to both to the women and to each section’s superior, realized that he needed to take the case to his “Superior Court”, God. God ruled in their favor, and the law was changed.
These righteous women saw the injustice they were subjected to, the denial of their inheritance, and knew the time had come to stand up and be counted. Imagine the courage and the chutzpah they had to have to question the patriarchal rulings of the time. A group of five women making a claim for all to see in a time of strong patriarchy. They stated their case with respect, and were treated with respect. They showed their desire to move forward into the land of Israel when others wished to go backwards. Their righteousness was rewarded with an implementation of a change from an unjust system of inheritance to one of justice.
Unfortunately, the rights of women in Jewish practice and ritual didn’t move forward from the times of Machlah, Noah, Chauglah, Milcah, and Tirzah for thousands of years. But in the fifty years of my lifetime, there has been much change. There were no women rabbis or cantors in the synagogue of my youth. But there were enough “Women of Chutzpah” in the changing times of my generation who stood up like the daughters of Zelophchad and respectfully said “We need to right this injustice, we need to be counted fully as members of this Jewish community with access to all rituals” And because of those women and the righteous men who heard their case, there is Rabbi Tracey Nathan and there is Hazzan Sharon Bernstein, and here I am, participating fully and joyfully, full of ruach that comes from deep in my soul that I am able to share with you. The daughters of Zelophchad teach us that things can change, injustices can be made right. We have the right, indeed, the obligation, to stand up, state our case, and work for change. It may take time, but it must be done.
It is my bond with the daughters of Zelophchad that made me wait those two weeks to be born, that makes this Parshat my parsha. I am part of their inheritance, and I hope to take their respect for the Jewish community; their courage to stake a claim for an equal share in Jewish life; and the spirit they possess to stand with their people—and pass that on to the next generation of “Women with Chutzpah.”
Rabbi Eli Cohen
forwarding a teaching from
Rabbi Eddie Sukol
Numbers Chapter 25, verse 10 through Chapter 30, verse 1
“Lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely eyes, lonely face, lonely lonely in your place. Lonely, lonely, lonely eyes, lonely face, lonely lonely in your place.” These are among the most depressing song lyrics I know and they come from a song titled, “Lonely” on Tom Waits’ 1973 debut album, ‘Closing Time.’ (You can listen to Waits’ recording at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kf-Zbmri1yc&feature=PlayList&p=688E39988AFADA72&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=29).
I thought of these lyrics when I read the passage in this week’s Torah portion in which Moshe is told he will not be permitted to enter the Land of Israel. “The Lord said to Moshe, ‘Ascend the heights of Abarim (Mt. Nebo to the east of the Jordan River) and view the land that I have given to the Israelite people. When you have seen it, you shall be gathered to your kin (i.e. you shall die) because…when the community was contentious, you disobeyed My command to uphold My sanctity in their sight by means of the water.'” (Numbers 27:12-14)
Nearly forty years has passed since Moshe led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Throughout those years of wandering in the wilderness he has strived to be a good, reliable and trustworthy leader. He performed exceedingly well some of the time and failed terribly at other times. His was not an easy task and whatever his successes and failure were, it is clear that his dedication, his purpose and his passion never waned.
Now, as the Israelites are on the cusp of entering the Promised Land, Moshe must confront the reality that he will not be with them. He will see the Land, but he will not walk there.
I imagine that at that moment he must have felt ‘lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely in this place.’ How could he not have? His role was to take the Israelites to the gateway to the Land of Israel, but he himself would not get to experience being in the Land. That was for others, not him. Despite forty hard years of unflagging effort and dedication he was to be denied the reward that he undoubtedly wanted.
He had to have felt that life was unfair. Yet it seems that in the Torah narrative this wasn’t the important part of the story. The story focuses on Moshe’s reaction to his sadness, disappointment and loneliness. Moshe understands that he is still the leader and that whatever his own personal feelings, he must continue to lead, right up until the moment when he is no longer the Israelites leader. In anticipation of this Moshe anoints Joshua to succeed him.
The story is not a simple one and it cannot be understood by facilely suggesting that Moshe just ‘toughed it out’ or ‘manned up’ in the face of his own sadness. I’m certain that Moshe did not deny his feelings. In a sensitive reading of the story we can feel that his disappointment is palpable. But Moshe also knew that there was more that had to happen than just focusing on his own needs and feelings.
Moshe acted selflessly. He accepted his disappointment and continued to complete his tasks for a greater good. This is truly one of the heroic moments in the Torah.
Rabbi Eddie Sukol
הרב ישראל יהודה בן שלום ומרים סוקול
30799 Pinetree Road, #401
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From Rabbi Rachel BarenblatTransforming violence into peace (Radical Torah repost)
Here’s the d’var Torah I wrote for this week’s portion back in 2006, originally published at Radical Torah.
Parashat Pinchas is another one of those Torah portions that’s hard for many contemporary liberal Jews to read comfortably.
The story begins at the tail-end of last week’s portion, when the eponymous Pinchas spears an Israelite man and a Midianite woman — called, in later texts, Zimri and Cosbi — who are consorting at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. God has declared a plague against the Israelites as punishment for “whoring with Moabite women” — if we read it literally, the problem is exogamy; if we read it metaphorically, the problem is the spiritual idolatry involved in offering sacrifices to somebody else’s deity — but after Pinchas kills the pair of lovers, the plague ends.
That’s the prologue. At the start of this week’s portion, God gives Pinchas a brit shalom, a “pact of friendship” or covenant of peace, for him and his descendants for all time.
Arguably the central question of the parasha is, was the brit a reward for acting righteously, or a corrective intended to steer Pinchas toward a more righteous path? And what are the implications of each answer, in terms of how we understand violence, peace, and God’s will for humanity?
The traditional commentators see the covenant as a reward. In their view, the spearing was absolutely the right call. But other readings are possible — and maybe helpful to others like me who find the portion’s unbridled violence difficult to bear.
Last summer at this season I had the pleasure of learning about this portion from Rabbi David Ingber (who has since then become the founder of Romemu.) He led us through a passage from the Mei HaShiloach, a.k.a. Mordechai Yosef Lainer of Ishbitz (also known as the Ishbitzer Rebbe), who makes a pretty compelling case that Pinchas’ actions were a mistake.
Pinchas acted as he did because he saw the action of Zimri as a great evil, the Ishbitzer writes:
[Pinchas] judged Zimri as no’ef b’alma (sexually corrupt.) However, the depth of the foundation of the matter was hidden from him, for Cosbi was his [Zimri’s] soulmate from the six days of creation, as explained in the writings of the Rabbi Isaac Luria, z”l. Owing to this Moshe Rabeynu didn’t become involved and sentence Zimri to death. Pinchas’ response in this action is thus compared to a child, meaning that he didn’t know the depth of the situation, seeing only through human eyes and no further. Nevertheless, the blessed God loved him and agreed with him, for in Pinchas’s mind he had done a great and self-sacrificing act in his zealotry.
Pinchas, the Ishbitzer is saying, did not have the wisdom required to understand the situation fully. He saw inappropriate sexuality, and took it upon himself to punish it…but if he could have seen what was really going on, he would have known that Zimri and Cosbi were soulmates, a pairing foreordained at the moment of creation. And if he had known that, he would have behaved in an entirely different way.
The Ishbitzer tells us this displays a kind of childlike consciousness. Pinchas leaps to conclusions in anger, and acts accordingly, as a child might do. In the eyes of the Ishbitzer, the covenant of peace is meant as a corrective for that action. Of course, it’s a loving corrective, because God — being God — understands both what Pinchas did, and what his intentions were. Pinchas lost balance between his sense of judgement and his sense of compassion; God restores that balance by giving him a brit shalom, a covenant of peace, to change his character and the character of his descendants.
It’s a radical teaching. It contradicts the conventional wisdom offered by Rashi and Ramban, both of whom declared that Pinchas’s vengeance was good in God’s eyes and that the covenant was a reward for good behavior. But I think it’s a powerful way to read the text, and a natural extension of the Ishbitzer’s fundamental teaching:
First and foremost, everything is in the hands of Heaven. Everything that we receive in our lives, we are receiving directly from the blessed G-d. It is then the work of man in the world to develop a mind that is conscious of this reality… Man must work…to know what G-d wants of him specifically in his life. He must also then know that G-d’s will could change at any time… This also necessitates that he not assume that what G-d wants from him is the same as that which he wants from another. Even if he sees another transgressing the Torah, he may not assume that the other is rebelling against G-d’s will, for he has no way of knowing the private relationship between the other and G-d.
(That’s from the translator’s introduction to Living Waters: the Mei HaShiloach, which can be found here.) According to this understanding, each of us has the responsibility to work at discerning God’s will in our lives — and we’re obligated to focus on our own paths, not on the path we perceive anyone else to be taking.
Pinchas acted according to his discernment of what the situation called for: a quick spear through the pair of lovers. The Ishbitzer would suggest that it’s not our place to condemn him for that, since we don’t know the inner truth of what his relationship with God was like. The Ishbitzer suggests that Pinchas acted on partial knowledge, and that when one sees the whole picture it looks quite different: a foreordained lovers’ embrace, rather than a sexual desecration of holy space. I think that’s the critical teaching here. Not that Pinchas messed up, though it’s arguable that he did, but that when one takes a step back to look at a situation in a larger perspective, it may appear in a new way.
And maybe that’s what happened for Pinchas after he was given the brit shalom: a new perspective, a changed point of view, a gentler and more forgiving way of being in the world. And if we work at it, I think that’s what studying parashat Pinchas can offer to us, too.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
O Holy God of Shabbes Inspiration Pinchas
*in Zohar, Pinchas is identified with Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the prophet
A maqam is a musical figure. Each Shabbat is associated with a particular maqam. Maqam Saba is associated with children, birth, brit. Covenant.
D E half-flat F G flat
You know we are dreaming peace all the time now
the evidence of that broken vav
in shalom of brit shalom [Numbers 25:12]
– that may be what’s holding it up.
Let’s fix the vav in the brit shalom
the covenant of peace
this reward that is given to your loyalist Pinchas.
You rewarded him the priesthood
for that unseemly act [Numbers 25:7 ff.]
so what is it — this covenant of peace –
the near peace and the far peace [Isaiah 57:19]
with the far peace you have confidence in the future
the near peace is more elusive
but HEY –
WE’RE LIVING HERE.
The near peace the inward peace
the far peace
they’re negotiating a world away
here we are praying
working our gardens and our abs.
I have to ask Pinchas
son of Eleazar son of Aaron
what kind of peace maker might you be
priest-man you ran them through
– that man and his girlfriend —
killed them both
you love an argument
your reward the priesthood
what about that diminished yud in your name? [Numbers 25:11]
Something unfinished in you Pinchas [K’sav Sofer and Ha-amek davar]
we need you but we need you
The vav in shalom seems so broken right now
K’TIA! I holler. [K’tia = broken]
Remember the perfect vav before its brokenness
the sign of connection.
Ahhhh — sometimes I feel so hollow and broken too
K’tia! on me.
When I feel this way –
restore me because I am not broken
use your language to integrate –
the power of blessing.
Use your words to make peace out of the pieces
lift up the lower union to join the upper union
that’s vav in its complete form
It connects in form
up and down the straight line vav
heaven to earth
the vertical link.
It connects in context
the horizontal, the holy and
the vav meaning and
the most conjunctive humble word.
Pinchas – fix that vav
restore the brokenness between us
this will be our priest-man.
Oh priesliness fix it all
if you can’t I will
I’m working on it
me and all my pals
we are whole and ready
I’m trying to end this prayer
but I can’t.
I’m waiting for new language
the repair of the near and the repair of the far
suggesting something entirely new out of the old might rise
something like –
james stone goodman*
*I am no Pinchas
maybe the son of a Pinchas
From Rabbi Miles Krassen
Parshat Pinchas begins like this, Vayedaber YHVH el-Moshe l’emor, “the Divine Word came down to that part of consciousness that receives the teachings of the Torah, and this is what it said:” Pinchas ben-Elazar ben-Aharon haKohen, “Pinchas ben Elazar, the grandson of Aharon the kohein (priest)….” Now, keep in mind that the quality of the kohein (priest) is the quality of chesed (pure giving, loving-kindness). Heishiv et chamati me’al Bnei Yisrael, “he was able to eliminate my wrath from the Bnei Yisrael, from those who are in the process of evolving through following my guidance,” b’kano et kinati b’tocham, “by taking on the issue of ‘My jealousy’ as it applied to them.” V’lo chiliti et-Bnei-Yisrael b’kinati, “because of him I didn’t wipe out the Benei Yisrael, as a result of my jealousy.”
There is such a deep message concealed here that is at the very crux of our transformation into a new paradigm. The root teaching that is coming down here is, the person who can restore the world to a condition of Divine Favor performs the greatest of all mitzvot. There is nothing greater that any person can do than establish the condition of Divine Favor. That’s what Pinchas does in this story and it transforms him into a kohein. So we have to really look into it deeply to understand what this entails, because it’s not at all obvious from the literal level and more importantly, the Torah’s meaning evolves as we transform from the old paradigm to the new.
I once met a Sufi sheikh who told me how he had met his sheikh. This happened in Turkey. One day the sheikh found himself for no apparent reason following around a seemingly normal person, and yet, he noticed that this individual had a kind of magnetic attraction. Somehow, he sensed that there was more there than one could tell by simply looking at him, and so, he followed him around all day long. This individual was very busy doing all kinds of things, running errands, and meeting with various people about town, but never seemed to notice that he was being followed. He didn’t acknowledge him or say anything to him. And finally, he followed this busy, magnetic gentleman into a store. Inside, this man was doing business, and when he finished, the store keeper said to him, “may Allah be pleased with us!” And he responded, “Allah is pleased with us! May we be pleased with Allah!” And the person who told me the story said when he heard that he knew immediately that this was to be his sheikh. Up until then he wasn’t even sure who he was following. But, you see, the sheikh gave over the teaching that Allah is pleased with us! That is basically what the power of Pinchas is here: he can wipe out the sense of Divine Displeasure and balance the scales on this side of Divine Favor.
In the old paradigm, from the now ending shemitah of the Torah of Din (the epoch during which divine guidance was mostly only comprehensible in terms of either/or, yes or new, right or wrong, permitted or forbidden, Israel vs. the “Nations,” the G-d of Israel or “other gods”) restoring divine favor was understood as requiring jealous acts of zealotry against “foreign influences.” When the sages viewed parshat Pinchas from the vantage point of the old paradigm, they derived the halakhah (the law) “kenaim pog’in bo” (a zealot motivated by jealousy for G-d’s honor is entitled to strike out in order to restore Divine Favor and is not guilty of murder).
From the more enlightened perspective of the new paradigm Torah of Rachamim (when Divine Guidance comes to us in the form of all-embracing compassion), the old paradigm’s understanding of the halakhah and its reading of this parashah itself are repulsive and need to be renewed and transformed.
For the transformation to the new paradigm, kenaim pog’in bo, can mean a person who truly loves peace is forgiven for speaking out strongly against all forms of old-paradigm zealotry. With the voice of compassion and reason and a new paradigm understanding of what “G-d” is, we can cut through and eliminate the very idea of “G-d’s jealousy and wrath.”
After all, what is Divine Displeasure really about? The Torah says here that Pinchas was b’kano et kinati b’tocham, “taking on the issue of my jealousy with them.” So, from the old perspective, there are two problems here. One is the issue that is called avodah zarah, which means that we’re not really clear about who and what it is that we are serving. We are led astray in some sense, and that’s called “serving false or foreign gods.” And the second separate issue (from the perspective of the old atavistic paradigm) concerned forbidden relations between Israelite men and certain non-Israelite women.
At a deep level the connection was a fear of losing purity and identity with the “True Religion.” But by the time of the Ba’al Shem Tov, a harbinger of the new paradigm that we now have a unique opportunity to pursue, the meaning of avodah zarah was transforming into something deeper. Already in old paradigm classical Hasidism, any way that we’re led astray, that we’re seduced by things that seem important or powerful to us, is a form of avodah zarah. According to the Baal Shem Tov, as long as we’re in devequt, aligned with the Divine Connection within us, then that is not avodah zarah. But whenever something overwhelms us and breaks that inner clarity, that is avodah zarah.
Now, in the old midrashic language of myth, the Torah says that when we’re not connected inside the way we should be with the Divinity that is within us and that is surrounding us and so forth, then “G-D,” as it were, is jealous of the “false god.” But, what is the “false god?” The “false god” is represented in the story by a Midianite woman who is called Kozbi. The name Kozbi itself, based on the root Kaf-Zayyin-Bet, means “wrong,” “mistaken,” “deceived.” So, we have a story about a relationship between Miss Mistaken and a leader of Israel, who is called Zimri ben Solu’. Now, Zimri, can mean many nice meanings, like “music,” and “song,” and so forth, but it also means “cutting,” “to cut,” something that prunes, like pruning what has to be removed from a tree. And the root for the name Solu’ means “stung,” or “pricked,” like by a thorn. So Pinchas recognizes that a leader of Israel is, as it were, dancing with the wrong woman, meaning: embracing a “false Shekhinah” (immanent Divine Presence, usually figured as female). Remember, Kozbi, by her very name, indicates the other side of the Shekhinah. Instead of dancing with the Divine Presence Itself, he’s led astray by all these things that appear attractive to him, and that’s how avodah zarah and the relationship with the forbidden female come together.
So really, these two issues, his being with the wrong woman and the issue of avodah zarah, are really the same. It’s only that the story of the interaction between Zimri and Kozbi is about “Divine Jealousy” in the sense that “G-D” says, “if you’re not dancing with the Shekhinah, I’m jealous for the Shekhinah.” It arouses “G-D’s wrath.” “G-D” wants us dancing with the Shekhinah, that we should be connected and dancing in this world with the Divine Presence itself and not some false version of it. So Pinchas acts boldly because he feels how important it is that Divine Wrath should not exist. When we are dancing with a “false Shekhinah,” things cannot go right in the world and there is no Peace.
We have a teaching that says, “If there is justice below, judgment below, there doesn’t have to be judgment from above.” This means that if we ourselves get it together, we don’t have to be compelled by the divine cosmic powers to force us to get it together. So what does Pinchas do? He takes “Zimri,” the aspect of Israel, the form of the followers of the path that are led astray, and he punctures the illusion of the “false Shekhinah” (an obsolete concept of divinity).
By doing so he restores Divine Awareness to the people of Israel. And when they have this Divine Awareness, then there is no Divine Displeasure. Because all that “G-D” really wants is for us to have knowledge of the Shekhinah of Divinity Herself. But Pinchas, because he has the power to recognize what is most important to G-D, namely our knowing, our awareness of G-D, is able to puncture the illusion of the false Shekhinah, and in so doing earns the just reward of the Covenant of Peace.
But, really we must go even further and learn from this parashah how renewing Divine Favor requires puncturing the illusion of “Divine Jealousy” itself. The One that is All and Everything has no other to be jealous of and ironically, the misguided zealot who thinks otherwise is the very one who needs to be “pierced” and neutralized. Only that “God” who is everybody’s god and nobody’s god, who is all gods and no god, can bestow on us the “Covenant of Peace.”
Yehei shlama rabbah min shemaya ve-chayyim tovim aleynu: al kol Yisrael ve-al kol yoshvey tevel.
May Heaven’s awesome peace and good life embrace all of us, our People and all those with whom we share this Earth.
In memory of my father, the tzaddiq and ba’al Mitzvot, Yitzhak Aizik Dov Ber ben Shimon ha-Kohein, may his memory be a blessing.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Efrat, Israel – One of the most fascinating aspects of the entire Torah is the portion which deals with the case of the daughters of Tzlophad (Numbers, Chapter 27), an incident considered of such significance that it is repeated at the conclusion of the Book of Numbers as well (ibid., 36). What do we learn from these special women? Perhaps the even earlier question must be, is it indeed permissible for men to learn Torah from women in the first place?
The Bible refers to Torah as well as to the Land of Israel as morasha, a heritage. From a literal perspective, a heritage (morasha) is an inheritance (yerusha) which has the additional directive that it must be handed over from generation to generation (hif’el, causative grammatical form). Torah applies to women as well as to men: “And Moses went up to G-d, and the Lord called to him from the mountain saying, ‘Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob (Rashi: this refers to the women) and shall you declare to the children of Israel (Rashi: the males)’ ” (Exodus 19:3). Therefore, the commandment of hakhel, to gather the Israelites once every seven years and establish a re-affirmation of the covenant, includes the women as well as the men (Deuteronomy 31:12) . And if women must learn and accept Torah (at least the Torah necessary to properly observe the commandment of G-d), then they must likewise be responsible to pass Torah down to the next generation – parent to child, teacher to student.
It is for this reason that Deborah was allowed to be one of the first Judges in Israel (Judges 4: 4,5), that Bruriah disagreed with her father Rabbi Hananya Ben Teradyon and her view is recorded (Tosefta Bava Kama 4) and that the Sefer HaHinukh rules (Negative Commandment 152) that a learned woman fit to render religio-legal decisions may do so, (Similarly rule the Hida, Birkat Yosef Hoshen Mishpat 7,12, and the Rishon LeZiyon HaRav Bakshi Doron, Binyan Av, Siman 66). To cite only one anecdotal example amongst many, when a difficult eiruv question came up before the father-in-law of Rav Shneur Zalman of Ladi, the founder of Habad Hassidut, that learned sages asked his daughter Rachel to decide the issues – despite the presence of a number of male Talmudic scholars. (Shulhan Arukh of the Rav, Orakh Haim 266, 303).
The practical Torah that we learn from the daughters of Tzlophad is that women do not only have a portion in Torah, but that they also have a portion in the Holy Land of Israel. Their particular case, which was ultimately adjudicated by the Almighty Himself because Moses did not have the answer, was that they were correct in insisting that since their father had no sons, they – the five women – were to receive their rightful portions in the Land of Israel (Numbers 27:7). And as a direct result of their vindication, the Almighty conveyed all of the laws of inheritance to Moses and Israel (ibid., 8-11). Indeed, women’s inheritance rights developed from this case to such an extent that if a father bequeaths a small amount of property, it is the daughters whose sustenance and dowries must be provided for – even to the exclusion of the sons (Mishnah Ketubot 108b).
But what we really learn from the daughters of Tzlophad is true love of the Land of Israel. After all, the Bible is describing the desert generation, which has just experienced the sin of the scouts, the rebellions against Moses by Korach, Datan and Aviram, and the insolence of Zimri, Prince of the tribe of Shimon, who rendered Moses ‘impotent’ by publicly cohabiting with a Midianite woman. It looked as if Jewish history was coming to a close almost before it began. It was into this maelstrom of cynical disillusionment – when the majority of Israelites probably doubted that the people of Israel would ever leave the desert and inhabit the Land of Canaan – that five young women fought for their eventual rights to the Land of Israel.
Their righteous determination and their indomitable faith – both in our eventual settlement of the land as well as in the justice of their cause – defy the imagination. Imagine the energy, drive and financial outlay which must have been expended by these five orphaned women – devoid of special parentage or privilege (the Midrash even identifies their father as having been the Sabbath violator put to death for gathering wood) – in order to enable them to present their case before the Highest tribunal: Moses, and then G-d. They climbed all of the bureaucratic channels, they fought the desert – Tammany equivalent of City Hall – and they won! Only a passionate love for and faith in the Land of Israel could have inspired such spirited dedication and stubborn ingenuity.
It is on this basis that Rav Efraim Lunshitz, known as the Kli Yakar, gives the following “feminist” spin to his interpretation of the introduction to the sin of the scouts: “And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Send forth your men that they may scout out the land.’ ” (Numbers 13:1) Writes the Kli Yakar: “Since our Sages say that the men hated the Land (of Israel) and said ‘let us return to Egypt’ whereas the women loved the land, as they (the daughters of Tzlophad) said ‘Give us an inheritance.’ The Holy Blessed be He, who Knows the future, said it would be better to send women, but according to you, you (Moses) trust (your) men.”
Reb Avraham Greenbaum
THE MANTLE OF LEADERSHIP
Land may pass from father to son (or daughter) but leadership must pass not by inheritance (unless it is genuinely deserved) but from a true leader only to a true student. As we start to approach the end of the Torah, issues relating to the end of life (such as inheritance) are more to the fore. This is the case in our parshah, where Moses is instructed to ascend the mountain to see the Land for which he so yearned, after which he was to die.
Characteristically, Moses’ first thought at that moment was not for himself but for those he would be leaving behind. “And Moses said to HaShem: Let HaShem, the G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the Assembly, who will go out before them and come in before them and who will bring them out and bring them in, and the Assembly of HaShem will not be like a flock that has no shepherd” (Numbers 27:15-17).
The appointment of Joshua as Moses’ successor to lead the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel involves the mystery of SEMICHAH, the “laying on of hands” whereby the Master gives Torah authority to the Student. Joshua deserved this because of his assiduous devotion to Moses and his constant study of the Torah: “He had been Moses attendant from his youth” (Numbers 11:28) “and his attendant Joshua the son of Nun was a lad who would not move outside the tent”.
[Rabbi Nachman of Breslov explains the mystery of SEMICHAH and how the “hand” signifies the transfer of wisdom in Likutey Moharan Part I, Discourse 61 #2.]
Reb Sholom Brodt
“Behold That I Am Giving Him My Covenant Of Shalom.”
Reb Nachman of Breslov ztz”l teaches:
The real meaning of peace is to fit together two opposites. So you shouldn’t be disturbed when you come across someone who is the exact opposite of yourself and thinks the exact opposite of yourself.
Do not assume you will never be able to live amicably with him. And similarly if you see two people who are completely opposite types, you should not decide it is impossible to make peace between them. Quite the contrary! Perfect peace is achieved through the effort to make peace between two opposites, just as G-d makes peace in His high places between Fire and Water, which are two opposites.
The way to achieve peace is through complete self-sacrifice [sacre = holy, fice = making] to sanctify the name of G-d. Then it is possible to pray with genuine devotion.” (Rebbe Nachman’s Advice p.258)
The real meaning of peace is to fit together two opposites. So you shouldn’t be disturbed when you come across someone who is the exact opposite of yourself and thinks the exact opposite of yourself.
Do not assume you will never be able to live amicably with him. And similarly if you see two people who are completely opposite types, you should not decide it is impossible to make peace between them. Quite the contrary! Perfect peace is achieved through the effort to make peace between two opposites, just as G-d makes peace in His high places between Fire and Water, which are two opposites.
The way to achieve peace is through complete self-sacrifice [sacre = holy, fice = making] to sanctify the name of G-d. Then it is possible to pray with genuine devotion.” (Rebbe Nachman’s Advice p.258)
To the more numerous you shall increase their inheritance, and to the fewer you shall lessen their inheritance… Nevertheless the land shall be divided by lot… whether many or few (26:54-55)
However these verses are understood, the implication is that the Torah is insisting that two different–even conflicting–dynamics be involved in the apportionment of the land: a rational division, which takes into account empirical data such as population figures and the quality of the land; a supra-rational lottery, whose workings are beyond human comprehension and control.
There is also a third factor involved: the concept of “inheritance”–a word that appears repeatedly in these verses in connection with the apportionment of the Land. Inheritance is neither “rational” nor “supra-rational.” An heir is not receiving a particular portion of land by some logical criteria or by some esoteric formula, but as his “birthright”–as something that is inexorably bound to his essence, something that belongs to him by virtue of who and what he is.
Our portion in life, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, includes all three dynamics.
There are the events and opportunities which shape our lives, giving rise to decisions and choices on how best to fulfill our purpose. One man will choose to be a Torah scholar, another will ascertain the hand of Divine Providence pointing him to the business world, while a third will interpret a G-d-given talent as directing him to become an artist. This is the “rational” means by which we receive our “portion in the land.”
But then there are the circumstances and experiences that “befall” us in a seemingly random and arbitrary manner. A person will often mistake these for “chance.” But these are no less the hand of Divine Providence than the rational side of life. In fact, they express a more profound involvement by G-d in our lives–an involvement that is too lofty to be captured by any logical formula, so that our earthly eyes can perceive it only as an “arbitrary” casting of lots. These are gifts that are too potent to be tapped with the conventional tools of intellect and instinct; we can only open ourselves to their possibilities.
Finally, we each have those moments in life when our “inheritance” comes to light. Moments which are not driven by our reason, nor by the transcendent forces that impact our lives, but by the very essence of who and what we are–by that deepest self that is one with its Source.
Life is the sum of these three elements. To live is to develop and optimize one’s consciously understood faculties. To live is to be receptive to the mysteries of life, to learn to recognize and respond to the opportunities implicit in the most esoteric turns of fate. And to live is to be attuned to the core of truth in the core of one’s soul–to one’s heritage as a child of G-d.
You shall observe to offer it to Me in its appointed time, two each day, a regular offering (28:2-3)
The communal offerings include temiddin–“regular” or “perpetual” offerings brought each day in the same format–and mussafin–“additional” offerings brought on special occasions (Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, the festivals) which differ in accordance with the nature of the day.
In our own lives there also exists this division: there are the “routine” things, such as the fifteen breaths we take each minute and the job we troop to each workday; and there are the “special” things we do once in a while or once in a lifetime. Both are crucial to a fulfilling and satisfing life. The offerings–and their present-day substitute, prayer–include both temiddin and mussafin, to teach us that our relationship with G-d should likewise embrace the surety of the routine on the one hand, and the excitement of the occasional on the other.
But when speaking of the two daily offerings, the Torah uses the term mo’ed, “appointed time”–a phrase generally reserved for the festivals and other occasionally occurring observances. This means that the Torah also urges us to transcend these categorizations and experience a sense of specialty and occasion also in the “regular” rhythms of life. As Rashi comments on the verse, “The ‘appointed time’ of the regular offerings is every day.”
(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
From Rav Dovber Pinson
The Power of Healing
This week’s Torah portion speaks of Pinchas, who, through an act of ‘violent’ zealotry, ends a terrible plague which was destroying the Israelites.
The portion opens with the words “Pinchas the son of Eliezer, the son of Aaron has returned My wrath…give him the covenant of Shalom/peace.”
Pinchas represented Gevurah/ severity, power, his name, numerically equivalent to that of Isaac – the original human manifestation of Gevurah and the tremendous Gevurah with which he acts is testament to this.
Yet, the Zohar says that after this act of Gevurah, Pinchas is referred to specifically as the son of Aaron, the high priest and the embodiment of Chesed/loving kindness, showing their deep connection.
Even more, the Zohar goes on to say that through this seemingly violent act of Gevurah, Pinchas becomes immortal, suggesting that some 600 years later he becomes Elijah the Prophet.
Pinchas, through this act of Gevurah, brought about a tremendous Chesed, healing the Israelites from the rampant plague and saving thousands of lives.
What Pinchas accomplished through this Gevurah act that was really a true act of Chesed, was a perfect blending of the Sefirot.
Any single emotion, untempered by any other emotion, leads to chaos and destruction, while the balancing of the emotions brings healing and order.
Pinchas acted with Gevurah to create harmony, and was rewarded with peace, Shalom, which is essentially the unity of two opposites.
Balance creates healing, perfect balance brings perfect health.
The Energy of the Week:HealingThis week is about restoring balance to bring about healing.
Throughout the week take note of areas in your life which are unbalanced, creating tension and stress and leading to ill health. Sometimes it is necessary to say ‘no’, to create a better balance, and while it may feel like an act of Gevurah, it is ultimately a Chesed.
Be sure that you are properly balancing your emotions and responsibilities to create a state of harmony and peace within your life. Create a healing within your emotions and you will find it extends to physical health as well.
Here’s is my offering for Parashat Pinhas:
by Abby Caplin
Our sages were wiser then-
they listened to God.
The five daughters of Tzelofhad,
Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, Tirtzah
strong desert Bible women, sisters,
who stood together, sand between their toes,
toe to toe with their male elders,
just in sight of the Promised Land.
Our father died in the wilderness and left no sons….
Give us our inheritance too! they insisted.
Moses was confused, did not know what to do,
except to simply ask
God, who said,
The plea of Tzelofhad’s daughters is just!
You should give them their share!
And it was made so.
In the Torah it is written.
And the great great-granddaughters of centuries of
the daughters of Tzelofhad, now grown women with daughters and
granddaughters of their own
stand before the beloved stones
of the Western Wall, the heart-stopping remains of the great Temple,
these Women of the Wall,
tender prayers to God who loves them as
only a mother or father can love,
and plead their case in justice before the councils.
Give us our share, our place before the Wall,
to pray freely, as full Jews
which is our inheritance!
But those who rule have no Moses to ask God what is just,
cannot think to listen for
God’s answer, instead
allow the pitch of chairs, prayer books ripped from mothers’ hands,
and the din of curses raining down
upon the daughters, upon the hot desert sands.
© 2010 Abby Caplin. All rights reserved.
From Rav Kook
Pinchas/Succoth: Connecting the Natural with the Supernatural
“Nisuch Hamayim” — Succoth and Water
The highlight of the Temple service during the Succoth holiday was the “Nisuch Hamayim” or water libation ceremony. Usually wine was poured at the base of the altar; but on Succoth, the tradition was to offer a special libation of water.
The Talmud (Shabbat 103b) found an allusion to this oral tradition in the verses discussing the special Succoth offerings. Three verses conclude with the letters Mem, Yud and “Mem”, thus spelling out the word mayim – water.
What is the significance of water to the holiday of Succoth? Why does the Torah only hint about the special libation of water, and not mention it explicitly?
Festival of Harvest and Booths
The Succoth holiday has a dual theme. On the one hand, Succoth is “Chag Ha’Asif,” the Harvest Festival. Harvesting signifies the culmination of the entire farming process — plowing, planting, irrigation, and so on. Even more, harvesting thoroughly involves the natural world. All of the processes of nature must be functioning properly in order that the fruits and grains will ripen for harvest. Succoth as the Harvest Festival symbolizes the world of natural order at its most cultivated and perfected state.
On the other hand, Succoth is also the Festival of Booths. Our temporary dwellings during the holiday commemorate the miraculous 40-year journey of the Israelites through the desert. During those forty years, the Jewish people were sustained by continuous supernatural phenomena: manna from heaven, the miraculous well of Miriam, and protective Clouds of Glory.
What is the connection between the agricultural harvest and the historic trek from Egypt?
Bridging Two Realms
The link between these two themes is in fact the very essence of the Succoth holiday. Succoth is a bridge between the physical and the metaphysical. It connects the natural world, as epitomized by the harvest, with the supernatural, which was unveiled with the appearance of Israel on the stage of history.
The passage of the people — from the miracles when leaving Egypt, until they settled and cultivated the Land of Israel — bound together the natural and supernatural realms. This bridge between the two worlds revealed another underlying link: the inner connection between a Divinely-created world, designed for the sublime goal of elevated justice, and a finished world bound by the fixed laws of nature and science.
Waters of Creation
In order to draw attention to the inner Divine wisdom that resides in the very foundations of the world, the Succoth ceremony utilizes water. Water recalls the initial state of creation — “God’s Spirit hovers over the water” (Gen. 1:2). The entire primordial universe was comprised of “water in water” (Jer. Talmud Chagigah II:1). Even then, before the dry land appeared and the mountains were formed, God’s infinite wisdom prepared everything necessary to bring all of creation to its elevated purpose.
In summary, the two themes of Succoth bind together the consummate natural world with the universe’s metaphysical essence. This essence was revealed in the miraculous emergence of the people of Israel; yet in fact, it goes back to the very foundations of the universe. Since creation’s secrets are beyond the grasp of our limited comprehension, the Torah only alludes to the waters of creation, through the final letters of the verses that describe the Succoth holiday offerings.
(adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, p. 247)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
Pinchas: Appointing a Leader for Israel
Moses was worried. Who would lead the Israelites after his death?
“Moses spoke to God, saying, ‘Let God … appoint a man over the community. … Let God’s community not be like sheep that have no shepherd.’ God told Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man of spirit, and lay your hand on him.'”
“Moses did as God ordered him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Elazar the kohen and before the entire community. He then laid his hands on him and commissioned him.” (Num. 27:15-22)
Joshua’s appointment to replace Moses was clearly a critical point in the spiritual and political development of the Jewish people. Every aspect of this sensitive transition was significant. Yet, several details in the Torah’s account require clarification.
•Why did Moses first refer to the people as “the community” and later as “God’s community”?
•Why did Moses place both hands on Joshua, in contradiction to God’s command to “lay your hand on him”?
Material and Spiritual Leadership
The Jewish people require two types of leadership. Like any other nation, they need leadership in material matters — economic, military, political, and social. In addition, as bearers of God’s Torah, they require spiritual guidance. Capable leadership will lead to success in both areas, revealing the greatness of Israel. All will recognize the wisdom and the beauty of their ways, as befits a special people who enlighten the world with spiritual knowledge and holiness.
In his plea before God, Moses referred to the people both as “the community” and as “God’s community.” Moses requested that they have a leader for all of their needs, both material — as any community — and spiritual — as God’s community.
One or Two Leaders?
The question is: can these two areas be combined under the guidance of one leader? Or is it necessary to divide them into two positions, one person to govern the nation’s material needs, and a second leader to deal with Torah matters. Clearly, if the two positions do not contradict one another, it is preferable to limit the number of leaders. “For the transgression of a land is in its many princes; but by a man of understanding and knowledge, established order shall long continue” (Proverbs 28:2).
The answer to this question, whether the spiritual and material leadership can be combined into one position, depends upon the state of the people and the world. When God’s unity is revealed in the universe, and the entire world enjoys God’s beneficence, then anything that contributes to the world’s advance is directly connected to God’s will. With material progress, the spirit gains understanding and insight. As the Talmud teaches, “All of your builders will be taught of God” (Berachot 64 on Isaiah 54:13). Those who literally build up the world, in all of its aspects, will be granted enlightenment and wisdom. All occupied in advancing the world will be fulfilling the will of their Creator. In their actions, they cleave to God’s holiness, just like the holiness associated with performing mitzvot and studying Torah, which are directly and truly the will of God.
In such an elevated reality, there is no conflict between the spiritual and material spheres. Therefore, it is logical that the supervision of both realms be combined under a single leader. The prophets announced that this will be the state of the world under the leadership of the messianic king.
This was also the level of Moses, who looked after both the spiritual and physical needs of the people in the desert. Moses was a “faithful servant,” taking care of their material needs; and he was crowned with “perfect beauty,” in his spiritual guidance of the people. For Moses, there was no contradiction between these two aspects. His bodily powers were not weakened by the divine light that appeared to him, due to his clear recognition of the unity in God’s divine will.
But when the intellect is unable to achieve this state, and can only draw spiritual sustenance when the springs of knowledge are free of all material aspects, then spiritual growth requires limiting the time and effort invested in worldly matters.
In summary: when the Jewish people merit the revelation of God’s unity in all realms, then they should have one leader, providing enlightenment in spiritual matters, and counsel and strength in material ones. The leader will not be distanced from holiness by his occupation in mundane matters. On the contrary, he will gain grace and honor. When, however, the Jewish people fall in their level of holiness, a conflict develops between the physical and the spiritual realms. Then it is necessary to have two distinct leaders. Under those circumstances, the study of holy subjects distances one from worldly matters. And occupation in worldly matters clouds holiness and dampens the desire to warm the soul with the Torah’s holy light.
Now we can understand why God commanded Moses to place one hand on Joshua. The hand is a metaphor for control and governance. Two hands represent control over two realms, the spiritual and the physical. Were God to command Moses to place both hands on Joshua, that would indicate that — for all times — both spiritual and practical leadership would be divinely issued. In dark times, when the material realm is distant from the spiritual, we can hardly ascribe to the material leader the same divine right to rule that Moses passed on to his disciple.
Why then did Moses place both hands on Joshua?
Moses understood from God’s command that only in the spiritual realm would there always be a divinely-appointed leader. Nonetheless, Moses wanted to prepare the stage for a future world in which both realms will united under one leader. Therefore, he made Joshua stand before both the high priest (representing the spiritual) and the common people (the physical). Moses then placed both hands on the new leader.
According to the Talmud (Nedarim 38a), Moses generously bequeathed to the Jewish people an aspect of Torah called “pilpula be’alma.” What was this special teaching?
True material leadership in accordance with the Torah will only be completely revealed in the Messianic Era. Yet, even now it is possible to reveal (to a select few) some understanding of how in the future we will be able to sense the divine quality that resides in all material matters. This is the “pilpula be’alma” that Moses taught — intricate teachings in the physical world. This knowledge was transmitted to us when Moses placed both hands on Joshua, exposing the inner unity of both realms.
(adapted from Otzarot HaRe’iyah vol. II, pp. 179-186)
~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~
NUMBERS 25:10 – 30:1
Pinchas is a zealous priest who kills a Midianite woman and her Israelite lover at the entranceway to the Tent of Meeting. In this portion, Pinchas is rewarded for his actions and is given the covenant of Peace and eternal Priesthood for his descendants. Afterwards, a second census is taken of the Israelites. A group of women, the daughters of Zelephechad, demand from Moses the right to inherit land. Moses consults with God and God agrees with the women.
The portion concludes with a description of our daily and festival offerings.
AFTER PINCHAS kills the lovers in the act of defiling the Holy Sanctuary, God rewards him for his zeal. He is given the Divine Covenant of Peace and the gift of eternal priesthood. These are our blessings as well, when we acknowledge and integrate the archetype of the Zealot within us.
The zealot is the one who acts fearlessly, without hesitation, without stopping to ask permission. He translates the yearnings and guidance of the heart into bold decisive action. When the zealot inside us is not honored and given a place of respect within us, we fall into complacency, ambivalence or paralysis. We become the woman of the Song of Songs who hears her beloved knocking and hesitates, saying, “I have taken off my clothes, how can I dress again? I have bathed my feet, must I dirty them?”1 When finally she answers the door, he is gone. Our hesitation results in the tragic loss of the opportunity to meet Life, face to face, right now!
THE TORAH TELLS US that with his deliberate and powerful actions, Pinchas ended a plague. As this is the text’s first mention of this plague, we must conclude that it is a plague we didn’t even know we had (or that we suffered unawares).
The plague that Pinchas ends is the tragedy of our perceived powerlessness. This plague takes the form of an inability to act deliberately and decisively in the name of the love and righteousness inside us. As this plague ends, the blessing of eternal priesthood is bestowed upon us and with it, the Covenant of Peace.
OUR PRIESTHOOD gives us the power to stand courageously between Life and Death and embody the yearnings of the heart for the good of all. In overcoming our powerlessness and paralysis we receive the blessing of wholeness, which is the Covenant of Peace.
When our inner guidance and yearnings are connected with our outer actions, we breathe a sigh of relief, ending the plague of powerlessness, hypocrisy, ambivalence, and complicity. Opening to the blessing of this covenant, we receive the benefits of “Shalom,” which means both “peace” and “wholeness.”
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
JUST AS SOON AS the archetype of the Zealot emerges in our story, God commands that we take a census. Our spiritual challenge is to locate and integrate this powerful archetypal energy in the context of the whole. For when it is split off from the whole, the zealot becomes a dangerous and destabilizing force in the personality or in the community.
As focused, directed power emerges and is acknowledged, we must respond immediately by taking stock, widening the perspective and integrating that force of zealotry into the whole. As the voice of truth breaks forth, we call forth a memory of the whole, so that truth can be married to kindness, and its force can be turned to healing rather than destruction.
When we surround that force with values of compassion, mercy, tolerance and understanding, then the power of zealotry confers vitality and clarity upon those that experience it.
THE CENSUS THAT FOLLOWS our acknowledgement of Pinchas, the power of zealotry within us, gives us the opportunity to refine that power in the context of the whole. The results of the census show us that we have changed since leaving Egypt. The journey has transformed us.
As the census proceeds we can also begin to notice the parts of us that have been unfairly ignored or pushed aside. We can begin to challenge the accepted ways in which power has been distributed. Certain parts of myself have swollen in importance, while other parts have become all but invisible.
THIS CHALLENGE COMES FORTH in this portion of Pinchas in the form of the daughters of Zelephechad who demand to be noticed. The women challenge the laws of inheritance that favor sons over daughters and in doing so, they plant the seeds of challenge under the hardened soil of the status quo.
Our spiritual challenge is to give voice to the parts of us that have been denied and ignored. (Perhaps the power and chutzpah of Pinchas will inspire us as we step up to this challenge.)
TO UNDERSTAND THE CHALLENGE of integrating this aspect of Pinchas, I would share a vision I had.
In this vision I met a great, beautiful and powerful tiger.
I asked the tiger, “What is the secret of your power?”
“I have three,” the tiger said.
First, I do not cherish anyone else’s opinion of me. Second, I attune myself to the cycles and rhythms of Nature. And third, when I need to act, I do so without fear or anger.”
These secrets of power, given to me by the tiger, are also the secrets of Pinchas. In this instruction we find the ideal by which to measure our own integration of the Zealot archetype
1 Song of Songs 5:3
2 Numbers 28:2
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