Parsha Pinchas – 5777

Parshat Pinchas In-Depth

“Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron (Numbers 25:10)

Why does G‑d refer to Pinchas as ‘the son of Elazar the son of Aaron’? Because the tribes of Israel were mocking him, saying, ‘Have you seen this son of the fattener, whose mother’s father (Jethro) fattened calves for idolatrous sacrifices, and now he goes and kills a prince in Israel?’ Therefore, G‑d traces his lineage to Aaron. (Talmud, Sanhedrin 82b)

Few professions are as cruel and inhumane as the fattening of calves for slaughter. So when Pinchas slew Zimri, many said: ‘Look at this holy zealot! He acts as if motivated by the desire to avenge the honor of G‑d and save the people, but in truth he has merely found a holy outlet for his cruel and violent nature. After all, it’s in his blood—just look at his maternal grandfather . . .’ So G‑d described him as ‘Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron’ in order to attest that in character and temperament he actually took after his paternal grandfather—the compassionate and peace-loving Aaron.

The true greatness of Pinchas lay in that he acted in complete opposition to his nature, transcending his inborn instincts to bring peace between G‑d and Israel. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)”

Torah Sparks: Pinchas 5777

“As I write this d’var Torah, I am reading a modern re-telling of the vampire myth called The Historian (by Elizabeth Kostova). Vampires are to an extent immortal, and can only be killed by a stake to the heart or extreme exposure to light. I will admit to a certain fascination with the notion of immortality and I will even admit to having read Anne Rice’s campy Vampire Lestat series when I was younger.

There are several biblical characters to whom ancient Jews ascribed immortality. One of them is Pinchas, the eponymous hero of our parsha. After having killed the Israelite Zimri and the Midianite Cozbi for fornicating, God’s promises Pinchas, ‘It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God, vachaper and atoned (or ‘will atone’) for the Israelites’ (Numbers 25:13). The strange thing about this verse is that Pinchas was already a priest and the priesthood descends genealogically. Pinchas seems to be receiving an eternal reward that was already his in the first place!”

Their Father’s Sin Is Not Their Own

“The popular use of ancestry websites speaks to our curiosity about where we come from and the history of our families. Some of us want genetic information for medical reasons. Others want a connection to the past: What did our ancestors do for a living? Where did they live? Is there anything in our lives that resembles those who came before us? Placing ourselves as a link in a chain of ancestors can both satisfy curiosities and add meaning to our lives. It may also remind us that we are a link in connecting the chain to the future.

But what happens when we learn an ancestor did something terrible? This week’s Torah portion assures us that the sins of our family’s past do not require us to follow their path.”

Equal Before God

“Towards the beginning of Parashat Pinhas, we read the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. After Moses instructs the people on the division of the Promised Land once they enter it he also informs them that the land will pass from father to son so that it will remain within the tribes. Upon hearing this the five daughters of Zelophehad confront Moses with the fact that their father died in the desert leaving behind only daughters. Given the new laws their land would be lost from their family. They believe that they deserve to inherit the land by stating “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kin!” (Numbers 27:3-4). Moses brings their case before God who declares that their claim is just and that they should be allowed to inherit their father’s share of the land. The law from that time on is that if a man dies without sons the land shall pass to his daughters.

Towards the end of Numbers/Bemidbar the tribe of Menasseh, to which Zelophehad and his daughters belong, complain that if the daughters marry outside the tribe the land will be lost from the tribal inheritance. Therefore the law is amended by Divine decree to include the provision that daughters who inherit must marry within their own tribe. Both decrees concerning daughters and inheritance insure that the land remains not only within the family, but within the tribe. Though at first it might seem that women’s rights and equality are the main concern of the authors (and many have tried to make that point) the reality is that familial and tribal integrity are the overriding principles.”

Haftarah Parshat Pinchas

“There is a mahloket (a dispute) over when the period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple begins. According to Rabbi Joseph Karo, the foundational decisor for Sfardim and author of the Shulhan Arukh, it only begins at the start of the month of Av:’“When the month of Av arrives, one diminishes one’s joy’. (Orah Hayim 451:1) Rabbi Moshe Isserles, Karo’s contemporary and the Ashkenazi authority, however, ruled that it is the custom for Ashkenazi Jewry to begin their mourner with fast of Shiva Assar b’Tammuz (the 17th day of Tammuz), three weeks before Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av), the day which memorializes the destruction of both the first and second Temples. (Orah Hayyim 452:2)

This dispute offers us an opportunity to learn a little about what lies behind the decision-making processes of these two sages. Rabbi Joseph Karo, by and large, hones closely to the language of the Mishnah and Babylonian Talmud, where, in fact, we read the precise words of his legislation: ‘When the month of Av arrives, one diminishes one’s joy.’ (M. Taanit 4:6; Taanit 26b) The origin of Isserles’ decision is less straightforward. The three weeks mentioned above are known by the idiom, ‘bein hametzarim – between the straits’, a phrase known to us from Eicha – the book of Lamentations (1:3). This association is first known to us from Eicha Rabbah, the rabbinic midrash on Eicha (1:29): ‘between the straits’ – days of troubles, from the 17th of Tamuz through to Tisha b’Av, for on them destruction is found’.”