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Home>Jewish Living

Parashat Pinhas
July 11, 2015 – 24 Tammuz 5775 

Annual (Numbers 25:10 – 30:1): Etz Hayim p. 918; Hertz p. 686
Triennial (Numbers 26:52 – 28:15): Etz Hayim p. 924; Hertz p. 690
Haftarah (Jeremiah 1:1 - 2:3): Etz Hayim p. 968; Hertz p. 710

Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum
Charleston, SC

 

After zealously stopping the Israelite plague at Baal-Peor, Pinhas is rewarded with a Divine covenant of friendship, which will be passed down to his priestly descendants. God commands Moses to defeat the Midianites for their role in the Israelites' recent idolatry.

Moses and Eleazar, the High Priest, are commanded to take a census of Israelites aged 20 and over -- an accounting of the children of the Exodus generation. Only Joshua and Caleb will experience both the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan.

The five daughters of Zelophehad ask that the inheritance of their father – who did not have a son – be given to them. God grants the request, setting a future precedent.

Knowing that his days are numbered, Moses asks God to assign a successor. Following God's directive, Moses lays his hands upon Joshua, ordaining him as the next human Israelite leader.

The details of sacrificial offerings for Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret are outlined.

Theme #1: Inheriting More Than Wind

[Zelophehad's daughters] stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said, "Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah's faction, which banded together against the Lord, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons. 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 kinsmen!" Moses brought their case before the Lord. (Numbers 27:2-5)

The forthrightness of Zelophehad's daughters is a brilliant example of a respectful challenge to ancient law.

In referring to the daughters of Zelophehad in this verse, the Scriptural text uses “lahem,” the masculine, rather than “lahen,” the feminine form of “them.” Why so? Because, according to the Tosefta, when a woman assumes an inheritance she is like a man for all legal purposes. Therefore, since the Lord commanded that the daughters of Zelophehad were to be given an inheritance as if they had been men, this verse refers to them in the masculine rather than in the feminine gender. -- Tifereth HaGershuni and Hanukkat HaTorah

This portion should have been written directly through Moses -- but the daughters of Zelophehad were worthily destined to have it proclaimed through them. -- Bava Batra 119a

Caught between conflicting and compelling claims, Moses is bewildered. To deprive the young women of their father’s inheritance is unjust, yet to let them inherit as males do will lead to the end of territorial sovereignty (which might not seem terribly important to us, but was critical to people at that time). -- Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Biblical Literacy

Questions for Discussion:

Tifereth HaGershuni and Hanukkat HaTorah postulate that the grammatical anomaly in our text somehow links the daughters of Zelophehad to privileges usually given to males. Is this a suitable explanation, or is it an unsatisfactory excuse for a grammatical mistake in the Torah? For those who struggle with the question of the Bible's authorship, do examples like these help clarify our belief, or only complicate the matter further?

Bava Batra points out that the law of inheritance is one of the few commandments that is explained in the Torah by mentioning a specific example of a family in which it applies -- and it is because the daughters of Zelophehad are well-regarded for speaking up for their rights. What does this teach us about the importance of speaking out for the sake of fairness? Are people like the daughters of Zelophehad an aberration in today’s society?

Rabbi Telushkin focuses on the difficulty that Moses faces while dealing with the daughters’ request, for he is concerned that there will be no perfect solution to the problem. What do we do when we are faced with imperfect solutions that cannot be settled with some sort of Solomonic compromise? What must we ensure before making such a decision?

Theme #2: Not Joshing You

Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, "Let the Lord, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the Lord's community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd." The Lord answered Moses, "Single out Joshua son of Nun, an inspired man, and lay your hand upon him. ..." (Numbers 27:15-18)

In perhaps his first sign of accepting his fate of dying before reaching the Promised Land, Moses asks that his successor be appointed.

A true leader must “go out before” his people and not trail behind them. He must raise them to his level and not allow himself to descend to theirs. He must “go out before them” and “come in before them,” always at the head of his people. He must have them follow him, and not keep looking back to see what they want and then follow their wishes. A leader who truly leads his people will raise them to his own level. He has a chance to “lead them out” from corruption and “to bring them in” to holiness (as Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter of Ger explains it). A leader who trails behind his people will finally be dragged down by them to their own low level. -- Avnei Ezel

Moses appealed to the Lord, “the God of the spirits of all flesh”, to appoint a leader who would have knowledge of the spirit of each individual among the people and who would be able to treat each person with forbearance in keeping with what he knows. Said the Lord to Moses: “Take for yourself Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit” because only he who knows his own spirit can have knowledge also of the spirit of others. -- Rabbi Y. Hurwitz

In the Mosaic conception, leadership literally does mean going out in front, as in battle -- figuratively, sticking your neck out. No nonsense about the leader bringing up the rear is countenanced. Cautious as in all things, the Lord has Moses put only “some of thine honor” on Joshua. One Moses is evidently enough. -- Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Questions for Discussion:

Avnei Ezel argues against a potential leader who is a “man of the people” and emphasizes that the best leaders don’t make decisions based solely on the will of the people. When voters in democratic societies choose their leaders, how often do they select a candidate who already agrees with them, and how often do they choose someone whose wisdom they trust regardless of the positions he/she takes? Does Avnei Ezel’s vision of leadership describe a potential flaw in the democratic process?

Rabbi Hurwitz contends that the best leaders are those who fully understand themselves. While that is a wonderful virtue, does it leave room for such leaders to periodically change their minds on important issues? Why are we often suspicious of people whose positions evolve, even when it is not politically expedient to do so?

Wildavsky notes God’s recognition that Joshua has impossibly large shoes to fill, and thus does not expect Joshua to be a carbon copy of Moses. What kind of leader should the Israelites expect Joshua to be? What do we know about Joshua from previous Torah narratives that will indicate a different leadership style than that of Moses? In what ways should they expect Joshua to be similar?


 


 
 
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