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Torah Sparks

July 10, 2004 – 21 Tammuz 5764

Annual: Numbers 25:10 – 30:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 918; Hertz p. 686)
Triennial Cycle: Numbers 28:16 – 30:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 931; Hertz p. 695)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 968; Hertz p. 710)

Prepared by Rabbi Howard Buechler
Dix Hills Jewish Center, Dix Hills, NY

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Sedra Statistics

Parshat Pinchas contains 168 verses.

It is the basis for 6 of the 613 mitzvot.

Six Torah readings of the annual cycle are named for individuals. Three of these readings have been in recent weeks, Korach, Balak and Pinchas. How are these three Biblical personalities linked? Do these men share any commonalties?

Torah Topics

Pinchas is the son of Elazar and the grandson of Aaron, the High Priest. In a swift and zealous display, he effectively ends a liaison between a Midianite woman (Cozbi) and an Israelite chieftain (Zimri). For his quick response in slaying this couple, Pinchas receives a Divine reward insuring that the Priesthood will always remain within his family.

God informs Moses that the Land will be divided among the tribes according to the census results with land allocation based upon tribal populations and assigned by lot. The five daughters of Zelophad present a most unique petition to Moses. In chapter 27, they note that their father had died in the wilderness for his "own sin" (and was not a revolutionary along with Korach, etc). Furthermore, as Zelophad left no sons, they inquire if they, as his daughters may inherit his tribal allocation of Land. Moses, as in other very difficult situations, demonstrates a remarkably gifted leadership quality. He seeks advice and in fact, asks God for insight. God shares with Moses that the daughters of Zelophad have a right and just cause to inherit their father's tribal territory provided that the land always remain within the tribal boundaries.

God then instructs Moses to ascend Mt. Abiram and view the Land of Israel from this vantage-point, as due to his transgressions he will not merit entering the Land. Joshua is to be singled out and 'hands layed upon him' to indicate that he will be commissioned as the next leader.

Word of the Week

Shalom is probably the most widely recognized Hebrew word. It means, contingent upon usage, peace, and a greeting of hello or goodbye. The root of the word shalom indicates wholeness and completeness. In the narrative of Pinchas this Shabbat, God grants to Pinchas and his descendants a covenant of eternal priesthood and a covenant of shalom. The phrase briti shalom (my covenant of peace) found in Numbers 25:12 is written in every Torah scroll in a most unusual fashion. The word shalom contains four Hebrew letters, shin lamed vuv and (final) mem. The vuv in the word shalom is written as a broken strophe -- a straight line broken in half, two discrete sections.

The Ba'alay Masorah, the Rabbis in the 8th and 9th centuries that standardized the Biblical text that we recognize as written in every Torah scroll codified that the letter vuv in the word shalom written here in the Torah must be written as two half stokes, unconnected. In a very powerful and graphic sense, the calligraphic style of the Torah then becomes a Midrash, a commentary on the actions of Pinchas. The text unambiguously states that God rewarded Pinchas for his zealous acts and granted him a covenant of peace, yet the style of writing conveys a very different nuance. By writing the word shalom defective (with a broken vuv), the message conveyed is that peace created by zealots and acts of violence will never be whole and complete. That type of peace, as represented by the broken vuv, is a broken and incomplete shalom. True peace, ultimate shalom, is not created through violence and fanaticism -- and the Masoretic text of the Torah implies a strenuous criticism of the actions of Pinchas.

Sedra Spark #1 - Holy Zeal or Fires of Fanaticism

The Torah speaks of the zeal of Pinchas and his passion to right injustice and avert immoral calamity. Even God rewards Pinchas with his covenant of peace and reassures him that the Priesthood will always emanate from the House of Aaron. Pinchas is praised for his deeds and actions and rewarded for this striking behavior. How do we understand zealots acting in the name of God and how do our Rabbis filter this episode as they grapple with holy fanaticism.

  1. Rashi notes that the Israelite leaders looked upon Pinchas derisively for his unilateral actions. Yet Rashi understands Pinchas as not acting on his own, but rather that he was zealous for the sake of God -- Pinchas acted at this important moment on behalf of God (and his actions are validated when the Torah states “he was zealous for MY sake.”
  2. When Pinchas acts as judge and jury taking justice into his own hands, the Rabbis in the Jerusalem Talmud state that his actions did not meet with the approval of the leaders of his time and in fact he would have been excommunicated had not God proclaimed that only for that specific moment in time were his actions justified.
  3. Maimonides states that Pinchas acted meritoriously only because he punished the transgression in-flagrant, in the act. Had he waited, he would have been liable for murder.
  4. One Midrash suggest that the heroism of Pinchas is his willingness to expose and deal with immorality at the highest levels of leadership -- this couple was not above moral laws and consequences.
  5. Ibn Ezra notes that the covenant of peace granted to Pinchas is not a reward for his actions, but rather a grant of protection -- that no one is to harm Pinchas for his zealous acts (which normally would be forbidden in Judaism!).
  6. Rabbi Pinchas Peli states that though Pinchas "occupies a place of honor in the pantheon of the Jewish people" his "personal example is to be emulated with great caution…zealotry and strong passion are an asset sometimes, but must not be permanent norms!"

Torah Table Talk

  1. Clearly this text exposes raw sensitivities in regards to understanding the actions of fanatics. Can there be too much zeal and too much passion? Judaism is a religion of law, morality and standards. How do we understand the actions of Pinchas?
  2. When can zeal and passion be invoked, and when are those attributes revoked and rebuked?
  3. Judaism embraces holy living in our daily lives. Jewish sexual ethics is a part of observing Judaism and seeing the world through Jewish eyes. How do we impart and live a life of Jewish sexual ethics and morality?
  4. In times of urgent, clear and present danger, what are the roles and limits of leadership?

Sedra Spark #2 - Voices of Righteous Women

With the exception of Moses, Joshua and Caleb, many of the male models of leadership in the Book of Numbers have shown deficits. The daughters of Zelophad (chapter 27) have the courage to stand before Moses and Elazar and the assembled leadership to press their cause and speak out. The issue is one of inheritance, which becomes obvious as the Torah has described the allocation of the land by a patrilineal model of inheritance. The five daughters state that their father died of his own sin (and was not involved in any other transgressions) and they too seek their rightful inheritance. Long before seeking professional assistance became an accepted norm, Moses seeks the wisdom of God to respond to this request.

  1. Rashi is perplexed that the daughters of Zelophad are noted in a long lineage going back to Joseph. He therefore infers that just as Joseph loved the Land of Israel (and even made his family promise to eventually bury him in Israel), so too the daughters of Zelophad cherish the Land of Israel as well and each are as righteous as Joseph the Tzaddik.
  2. When God responds that the daughters of Zelophad "speak properly" and are justified in seeking to inherit their father's land, it is of ultimate praise. Rashi states that they "saw what the eyes of Moses did not see, and they spoke properly and beautifully. Furthermore, their demands to be accorded justice met with praise from God -- which is the ultimate vindication of their cause for themselves and the future.” The Sifre notes that few honors can be as meritorious as the daughters of Zelophad for their request brought about God revealing a new aspect of Jewish law, forever codified to their credit.
  3. In Ellen Frankel's The Five Books of Miriam, a Midrash is created that one can "understand this story as a valuable lesson for all of us, teaching us that Jewish law has the flexibility to expand and embrace women, giving us increasingly more rights and fairer share of our common legacy."

Torah Table Talk

  1. A predicate of Jewish life is to give voice to righteousness and justice. How do the daughters of Zelophad fulfill this mandate of speaking boldly and forthrightly in search of the truth and visioning a better future?
  2. The daughters of Zelophad work within the framework of Judaism by approaching Moses and the leadership to plead their cause. What salient values are taught regarding both the dynamics of Judaism as an ever evolving faith, and of a leadership that is also willing to grow (as Moses evolves and learns in this narrative)?
  3. The narrative speaks of inheritance of tangible property. Judaism also speaks of "ethical wills" which is testimony bequeathing our values and Jewish dreams for the future generations. What Jewish dreams do we prepare as a legacy for our families and loved ones?

Torah Q & A

  1. What woman is specifically noted as still living in this second census (and remarkable considering that she went with Jacob to Egypt as well!)?
  2. How many hands was Moses to place upon Joshua when transmitting the mantle of leadership to him. And how many hands did he actually place upon Joshua at that moment?

(1. Serah, the daughter of Asher (and the granddaughter of Jacob) is noted in 26:46. Some state that she is mentioned here as an allusion that women will receive their just inheritance in the Land. Others note that her inclusion underscores that the woman of the Wilderness generation were righteous and not led astray -- and that the women did not necessarily perish in the wilderness (as the men of that generation did). 2. God instructed Moses to place one hand upon Joshua (27:18). He actually places both hands upon Joshua (27:23) as Joshua is appointed as his successor. What can we learn from this?

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