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Torah Sparks

July 23, 2005 - 16 Tammuz 5765

Annual: Numbers 25:10 - 30:1 (Etz Hayim, p. 918; Hertz p. 686)
Triennial: Numbers 25:10 - 26:51 (Etz Hayim, p. 918; Hertz p. 686)
Haftarah: I Kings 18:46 - 19:21 (Etz Hayim, p. 938; Hertz p. 699)

Prepared by David M. Eligberg
Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director


God rewards Pinchas for his zeal for his actions against Zimri and Cozbi who were leading the Israelites astray and into immorality. In preparation for entering the Promised Land, the Israelites are directed to take a census. The results of the census are presented by tribe, listing the clans within each and giving the number of males above the age of twenty, able to bear arms.

The relative size of each tribe was incorporated into the system of allocating land in Israel. General geography was determined by lottery and then specific area was adjusted for tribal size. The levitical clans are listed at the end since they will not share in the apportioning of land. The division of land provides the impetus for including here the rules of inheritance and addressing a unique situation raised by the five daughters of Tslofhad, a man who left no male heir.

Moshe's not entering the Promised Land is repeated. In full view of the Israelites, Moshe is to place his hands on Yehoshua, imparting to him a measure of his authority to the next leader. The unique status of Moshe is also emphasized. Yehoshua will need to seek out the Kohen Gadol and seek answers from the Urim and Thumim to determine God's instructions.

The religious calendar is established allowing for regular communion with God. The final chapters of the parasha list the appropriate daily, Shabbat and holiday offerings, along with the various mixtures and libations that were to accompany them. The Torah emphasizes that these sacrifices, offered on behalf of the entire nation, must be done at the correctly appointed time. The list of communal offerings concludes with a reminder that any Israelite could bring a personal offering.

Discussion Topic 1: Covenant of Peace

"Pinchas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion. Say, therefore, 'I grant him My covenant of peace. 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, thus making expiation for the Israelites." (Numbers 25:11-13)

Derash: Study

"My covenant of peace"

  • Divine protection from the next-of-kin of the victim, Zimri, who was of a distinguished family, and who would, no doubt, wish to avenge his death. (Abravanel)
  • The Divine promise of a "covenant of peace" is a guarantee of protection against the inner enemy lurking inside the zealous perpetrator of the sudden deed, against the demoralization that the act of killing another human being without due legal process is likely to cause.
  • In reward for turning away the wrath of the Holy One, He blessed him with the attribute of peace, that he should not be quick-tempered or angry. Since it was only natural that such a deed as Pinchas' should leave in his heart an intense emotional unrest afterward, the Divine blessing was designed to cope with this situation and promised peace and tranquility of soul. (Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (Ha Netsiv))
  • After the great zeal expressed as passion for God and the prevention of the desecration of the Divine Name, the Holy One gives him a covenant of peace as a gift. The Torah alludes to the idea that the pathway of peace is preferable and has greater potential to influence (others) than the paths of zeal and conflict. (Rabbi B. Y. Nathan)
  • The middle road and the golden path is the one that a person should take -- zeal and peace are two extreme qualities that contradict each other. Since Pinchas embraced the pole of zeal, it is only fitting that he be given the quality of peace to bring about a balance within him and to direct him to the middle of the road. (K'tav Sofer)


  1. Peace is seen here as a Divine gift. What can we do to help foster peace in our lives, community, and world?

Discussion Topic 2: The Real Thing or Too Much of a Good Thing

Derash: Study

"displaying among them his passion for Me"

  • Why is the topic separated over two parshiyot, parshat Balak describing the action and Pinchas the reward? This is to teach that one must check carefully the purity of intention of those who are zealous [like Pinchas] and therefore one must pause in the middle to determine if they are truly worthy of reward. (Yosef Yafet)
  • Such a deed must be animated by a genuine, unadulterated spirit of zeal to advance the glory of God. In the case, who can tell whether the perpetrator is not really prompted by some selfish motive, maintaining that he is doing it for the sake of God, when he has actually committed murder? That was why the sages wished to excommunicate Pinchas, had not the Holy One testified that his zeal for God was genuine. (Rabbi Baruch Epstein, Torah Temimah)
  • Pinchas' zeal was motivated purely for the sake of heaven without even a hint of a desire for revenge, just as the Holy One whose love is for all his creations and he disciplines those he loves. And that is what the expression here means. Pinchas's passion was like the Divine passion. (K'tav Sofer)
  • The two parshiyot prior to Pinchas, Hukkat and Balak, and the two parshiyot afterwards, Mattot and Masaey, are often combined as double portions while parshsat Pinchas is always by itself. This is because Pinchas was zealous and all the zealous are loners. And if there are many who are zealous, they each go their own way and path. Woe to the generation where the zealous unite together. (Rabbi Yitzhak Eiger)


  1. Is "pure" zeal truly attainable by human beings?
  2. At what point does zeal become a detriment rather than an asset?
  3. Rabbi Eiger's closing words seem particularly resonant given world events of the past few years. What can we do to change this frightening phenomenon?

Discussion Topic 3: Individual Responsibility

Derash: Study

"for his God"

  • Why does the Torah say "his God" and not simply God? To teach that Pinchas's passion and zeal for God were a result of his insight and understanding of God and not based on the insights of others. (Rabbi Yehezkel of Shinava)
  • It is the way of a sinner to point out others and say: "So and so is doing the same thing." Therefore, the Ten Commandments are written in the singular, so that every one should think that to him alone the Torah was given and to him alone are things addressed and reflect on his actions of others. Pinchas could have thought that since Moshe, Aharon and the seventy elders are not acting on God's behalf, I too will stand by, but he did not do so but was "impassioned for his God." It does not say "for God" but "for his God"; Pinchas saw this as a personal responsibility, that it was his personal obligation to sanctify God, even though others greater than him stood by. (Hohmat Aish)
  • Wherein is the principle of measure for measure to be seen applied here? In truth, there were many amongst the Israelites who were embarrassed by the actions of Zimri and were deeply troubled by them as it says "they stood weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting" (Numbers 25:6). Pinchas transformed thought and feeling into action and this is akin to the work of the kohanim, for the kohanim are messengers of the people, who transform the people's service of the heart into concrete reality [through the sacrificial system], and thus the reward of priesthood is a measure for measure response to his actions. (S'fat Emet)
  • Do not separate yourself from the community. (Avot 2:5)
  • The Torah describes Pinchas as praiseworthy, for his passion was "within them," namely in all of Israel. His service was done in the midst of the people and he did not separate himself from the community to build a private sanctuary for himself. (Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz)
  • Even though [Pinchas] was impassioned by God's passion he still remained in their midst, he was involved with everything and did not separate himself from the community. (Rabbi Yitzkak of Vareka)


  1. Do we feel addressed personally by God and Torah? How do we respond?
  2. Rabbi Yehezkel emphasizes Pinchas' developing a personal understanding of and relationship with God. How can we go about creating that for ourselves?
  3. How can we translate our good intentions into communal blessings?

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