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Study Sheet for Parashat Pinchas

 

Summary

  1. Pinchas is rewarded for killing Zimri and Cozbi with a promise of hereditary High Priesthood.
  2. Moshe is ordered by God to declare war on the Midianites.
  3. The second census of the people .is recorded
  4. Moshe is ordered by God to plan the apportionment of the land to each tribe.
  5. The census of the Levites.
  6. The daughters of Zelophehad appeal for their property rights
  7. Laws of inheritance given by God to Moshe
  8. Joshua is appointed to succeed Moshe
  9. List of sacrifices required at daily and holiday services in the Temple.

 

 

Short Comments

Pinchas - relevance to today - public sex scandal involving well known personalities and relatives of TV stars. Pinchas took action (perhaps like OJ?). His reward is known as "brit shalom" (covenant of peace). Some say that it is a little odd to reward an act of violence with a covenant of peace. Perhaps he should have been given the covenant of zealotry "brit kana-ut". A sign that the covenant of peace is somewhat ambiguous is found in the way the word 'Shalom' is printed (see p. 686 28:12). The letter 'vav' in the word 'Shalom' is split in two - as if wounded by a spear thrust. This is clearly visible in the Torah scroll and can be seen if you look closely at the text in the Hertz humash. in front of you. This is the only occasion in the Torah were a letter is split in two. Some commentators allude to this as a protest made by Moshe, indicating that God's reward to Pinchas was setting a dangerous precedent.

 

The census - relevance to today -- Internet junk mail. We have long been plagued by unwanted mail at home (catalogs, solicitations, etc., known as junk mail). Most of us are used to sorting through the mail and tossing out all the junk on a daily basis. This plague of junk mail has seriously infected the internet. As anyone who has email can tell you, internet junk mail is more annoying than standard junk mail that we get via 'snail mail'. But what does this have to do with a census?

 

Jewish tradition has always associated making lists of names (taking a census) with plagues. In the first census (Exodus 30:12) the people had to pay a half shekel at the time of the census to avoid a plague. King David was not careful when he took a census (II Sam 24) and 70,000 people died because of a plague. Throughout Jewish history, whenever there was a census, it was often used to tax and/or conscript the Jewish community. We had good reason to fear a census. But what does this have to do with Parashat Pinchas?

 

There is a strange break in the middle of verse 1 of chapter 26 (unfortunately not visible in Hertz p687 because of the chapter break and a numbering error). The first part of the verse reads 'And it came to pass after the plague' then there is a gap indicated by the Hebrew letter 'pay' - the sort of gap that is usually present only between subdivisions of the text. After the gap, the rest of the verse continues, 'that the Lord spoke unto Moshe and unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying: Take the sum of the of all congregations of the children of Israel...' Most commentators explain this gap as trying to separate the people from the dangers inherent in having a mention of the plague and the census so close together. As my father's teacher, Professor E.A. Speiser said, there was a "... fear of having one's name recorded in lists that might be put to ominous use by unknown powers ...". This fear was present in ancient times and continues to this very day on the internet.

 

The daughters of Zelophehad

Who were they and why is their story here?

Zelophehad was a member of the tribe of Menashe. He died without leaving any sons. When it came time to apportion the land, only males were counted. His daughters were afraid that their father's share would be taken by others and that they, (still being unmarried) would be homeless. They appealed to Moshe for a ruling - they believed that women should be permitted to inherit land. Moshe sought guidance from God, who ruled in their favor, 'The daughters of Zelophehad speak rightly, you shall give them their inheritance in the land among their father's brothers...' (p. 692, 27:7).

 

Names in the Bible always contain a hint to some meaning. The rabbis puzzled about who was Zelophehad and why he died. There are 2 interpretations of his name:

 

His daughters go to great pains to explain that he died for his own sins (p. 691, 26:3) and that he was not mixed up in any of the revolts against Moshe (such as Korach).

There were 2 views of why he died:

 

One view says that Zelophehad had sons, but they also died because of his sins.

 

The daughters are universally praised by all commentators. They were polite, respectful, intelligent, logical, patient, and of course, beautiful. Their names show some of these positive attributes:

What is the relevance of their story to us today?

 

In our lifetimes, we have seen the role of women in Jewish life change considerably. This was not handed to them. Like the daughters of Zelophehad, they had to go and demand their rights. Some congregations still do not accord women equal rights, the fight for equal rights continues.

 

We also see that Moshe was stumped by the daughters' request. Being on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights did not prepare him for all eventualities. He had to consult God for guidance to solve new problems that arose after the experience at Mt. Sinai. In our generation, we can't consult with Moses to deal with new problems that arise. We consult with our leaders - rabbis and scholars who interpret the laws as well as they can to apply to the new circumstances at hand. The halachic process involves applying the traditional laws and principles to new situations that were not addressed in earlier times.

 

The daughters of Zelophehad present an early example of the halachic process at work. They defended their case; they brought evidence and made several types of arguments to support their points. Unfortunately in our time, we don't hear a definitive word from God. It would be wonderful if we heard a heavenly statement saying, "The daughters of the Conservative movement speak rightly". The role of women is just one of the halachic issues that are being debated in our communities. We can never be sure what God would say on the matter. The best we can do is to emulate the daughters of Zelophehad - make a well reasoned argument and proudly stand up for what we believe is right.

 

Created on 7/97

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