Parshat Pinhas

Summary: Parshat Pinhas is 8th in the Book of Numbers covering Chapters 25:10-30:1. It announces G-d’s promised Covenant of Peace with Pinhas following his zealotry against Zimri, prince of the Tribe of Shimon, and Kozbi, Princess of Midian.

After commanding Moshe to wage war with the Midianites, G-d called for the 3rd census of Bamidbar, a historical counting at the end of the 40-year’s wandering, in which each tribe was identified by family, and numbers per tribe were tallied (no total was given).

In addition to listing those who perished along the way (Nadab & Avihu, Korah, Datan & Aviram), this census would be used to divide-up the land inheritance after the nation entered Cana’an. The Levites were counted separately but in the same way.

The five daughters of Tselofhad of the tribe of Menashe approached Moshe to ask whether they as women could inherit their father’s portion of land as he had no sons. G-d enumerated through Moshe the laws of women’s inheritance in such cases.

Then the Almighty told Moshe to ascend Mt Avarim where he could view the land that would be given to Bnei Yisrael, but where he would be gathered to his ancestors just like his brother Aharon. For failing to sanctify G-d during the rebellion that occurred at Kadesh over the Waters of Strife, he was proscribed from entering Cana’an.

Moshe requested of G-d to appoint a new leader and was told to choose Joshua son of Nun, on whom he was to place his hands and transfer his aura of leadership. They were to appear before the people while Elazar the Kohen would further confirm the Divine Will behind Joshua’s appointment.

The remainder of Parshat Pinhas concerns the special seasonal sacrificial offerings including; the daily Tamid, Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, Pesah, Shavuoth, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the 7 days of Sukkot plus Shemini Atseret.

Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.

Comment: Parshat Pinhas is about zealotry, about women’s rights and about leadership. Pinhas who avenged G-d’s jealousy, was rewarded with an everlasting Covenant of Peace. The daughters of Zelophhad petitioned and won approval to receive their father’s inheritance. And Moshe was told to ascend Mt Avarim to prepare for his death appointing Joshua to carry on in his stead – all very profound issues.

But one added observation is that again, Bnei Yisrael stood on the brink of extinction and were somehow rescued. The plague that broke out due to the seduction of the Midianite women and the worship of Ba’al Peor in last week’s Parasha, claimed more lives than any of the desert plagues thus far. Compared to 14,700 during the time of Korah, the Baal Peor plague claimed 24,000.

The astute Torah reader will have noticed the parallel between the sin of Baal Peor and the Golden Calf. Rabbi David Fohrman points out, both involved sexual promiscuity, idolatry and feasting. And both came at a time when the people were at a spiritual high point – the Golden Calf immediately after the Decalogue, and Baal Peor after G-d’s blessings bestowed by Balaam on Bnei Yisrael.

Is it odd that each time the Children of Israel have experienced some form of revelation and redemption, it’s followed by a national sin? Is there a discernible pattern and can we break this repetitious, self-destructive cycle?

Finding ourselves in a place where we experience great spiritual enlightenment and emotional closeness, with G-d, with a spouse, with our children, with friends or in community requires openness and vulnerability. But soon after, when the novelty of that intimacy wears off, we’re challenged by what to do next. Do we revert back to our former circumstances or do we propel ourselves forward to a higher level of commitment?

A recent example was last Sunday’s Interfaith Walk and House of Worship visits that created a very warm feeling between people of different faiths who seldom mix with each other. That can be built upon or left to wither. But the experience seeing others as human as we, makes going back to a state of ignorance or mistrust no longer an option.

For most of us, respecting, sustaining and maintaining a sense of relationship intimacy isn’t easy. Largely because it requires extending our feelings of vulnerability which creates within us discomfort and a feeling of danger. So, emotionally there’s a point when each of us makes a decision whether to continue or to close-off our exposure. Often it’s the latter.

Especially during this period known as the 3 Weeks – a historical time associated with Divine wrath and the destruction of our two national Temples  – it’s easy to emotionally run away or hide from the historic failures of our faith. We’re told that disunity and baseless hatred were the spiritual causes that weakened the Jewish people and led to our downfall.

By recognising the redemptive cycle described above – building on positive spiritual events and extending our sense of intimacy and vulnerability – perhaps we can right the mistake of our forebears. Reaching out to G-d and those around us with open hearts and a willingness to engage is a crucial first step.