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Torah Dialogue Pinchas

07/08/2020 12:49:46 PM


Rabbi Edward Davis

SHABBAT SHALOM. Today is 19 Tammuz 5780. The Haftorah for today is Jeremiah, chapter one, the Haftorah for Mattot, since this Shabbat is the first of the Three Weeks, the “Three Haftorahs of Punishment.”

PINCHAS   Numbers 25:10
Compiled by Rabbi Edward Davis

1. A Kohen who commits a murder is not permitted to perform his ritual functions in the Holy Temple. Today there are Responsa which permit a Kohen soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces who kills an Arab in his military service to duchen and still receive the Kohen Aliyah to the Torah. The prime example for this decision can be the case of Pinchas. Even though Pinchas was not a Kohen when he killed Zimri and Cozbi, he was rewarded with the Kehunah and became the High Priest in the future. An act of killing is the antithesis of the role of the Kohen. But Pinchas’ rise to stardom was based on the zeal to honor Hashem. Hashem is right to reward Pinchas in this way, an eternal covenant of peace. The killing instinct in Pinchas is only in a particular incident. When all the tribes of Israel fought the tribe of Binyamin (in the incident of the concubine in Giv’ah), it was Pinchas who authorized this battle (through the use of the Uri and Tummim.) It was also Pinchas who did not go and absolve Yiftach of his vow to offer in sacrifice the first one to greet him upon his return from his victory over Ammon. Pinchas was old at the time. But the Talmud states (Bava Metzia 114b) that Pinchas and Eliyahu were one and the same. (RED)

2. Rashi and Ramban differ slightly in their discussion of the division of Land to the twelve tribes. Rashi says the division was based on the size of each tribe. The Ramban emphasizes the Torah discussion of each family within each tribe; the division of Land was based on tribal size. Seforno adds a point which strikes a reasonable approach to the dilemma. There is quantity and quality of Land, and both are taken into account. A tribe could possibly receive less land, but the quality of the land could increase the value of the land. This would make the portions of Ephraim and Menasheh as two tribes more meaningful. The tribe of Shimon was the smallest tribe (as  a result of their involvement in the sin of Peor). Yaakov Avihu, on his deathbed, said that Shimon will be scattered among Israel. This became true. Shimon’s portion was south of Yehudah. As a result of becoming impoverished, the men of Shimon were scattered among Israel, begging others for support. (Moshe Rabbeinu, at the end of his life, did not even bless Shimon at all.)

3. When it came to Yissachar, the Torah mentions his son Yashuv. Rashi comments that Yashuv was Yov, who is enumerated in the Torah earlier as the son of Yissachar, who came out of Egypt. In the Da’at Zkeinim MiBaalei HaTosfot adds the Midrashic touch to explain the situation. When YissaSchar found out that he named his son with a name of an idol, he gave the third “Shin” in his name to his son. Consequently, the custom in the Yeshiva of Volozhin (19th century Poland) was that the Ba’al Korei would pronounce the name of YissaSchar, he would include all the “Shins’ in the name until he reached Parshat Pinchas when Yashuv was mentioned, he would pronounce Yissachar without the last “Shin.” Rav Soloveitchik, in his Minyan in Brookline, Mass., would have the Ba’al Korei  read the name Yissachar twice, once with the extra Shin and once again without the extra Shin. Until he reached today’s Parshah. Here, he would pronounce the name Yissachar because here, the son was referred to as Yashuv, indicating he had received the father’s extra letter.

4. When Tzelaphchad’s daughters made their request to inherit their father’s portion in the Land of Israel, one major sticking point was that their father was not part of Korach’s rebellion. Korach’s rebels forfeited all their possessions in the punishment (16:26), but where did they end up forfeiting their portions of Eretz Yisrael. The Seforno wrote that the rebels were also judged in the Heavenly Court, and the decision above caused them to forfeit their portions in the Promised Land. (The pivotal statement in the Text was that Moshe told the people to distance themselves from the wicked ones and all their goods. This last phrase “all their goods” must have included their portion in Eretz Yisrael.) According to our tradition, Tzelaphchad was the one who gathered wood on Shabbat (16:7), and was executed for his sin. As such, all of his possessions were inherited by his family members. A look at Bava Batra 118b, would support the Seforno’s contention and raise further questions about all their possessions (and land in Eretz Yisrael) that belonged to the rebels.

5. The end of this Parshah is the description of the Mussaf offerings for each special event of the year. But shouldn’t this discussion of sacrifices be placed earlier, in the Chumash of Vayikra, which is devoted to the ritual service of sacrifices. Upon closer inspection, we can see a development that happens here. The Parshah of Pinchas actually begins the discussions of entering the Promised Land and living a different lifestyle. The census to see the size of the military, the choice of a successor to Moshe, the plans to distribute the plots of heritage land to each family, and the topic of Mussaf sacrifices all deal with the entry into Eretz Yisrael. True, each holiday was mentioned earlier, but that was primarily to give the historical significance of each holiday. Furthermore, our Sages tell us that Bnei Yisrael observed Pesach only once in the desert. I believe that we can assume that in the long run, none of the holidays were observed and celebrated in the desert. All these days have an agricultural component to them. Hence it was correct to remind the people of the new reality once they cross the Jordan River.

6. Much is said about the phrase “a sin offering ‘for’ Hashem” (28:15), which is mentioned in the paragraph dealing with the Rosh Chodesh Mussaf. Rashi briefly alludes to the Midrashic tale in the Talmud about Hashem causing the moon to become smaller after the moon correctly offered advice to Hashem. That aside, it is not the only interpretation of the text. The simpler one is the one we would have found without the story of the moon, and that this was a sin offering TO Hashem and not FOR Hashem. This is the way the Rambam interprets the clause (Moreh Nevuchim III: 46). The Rambam writes that the Torah is concerned that it would appear to others that we are offering a sacrifice to the moon. This is what the idolaters in Egypt did. Therefore the Torah adds the phrase TO Hashem in the Rosh Chodesh sacrifice to tell us, point blank, that we are not worshipping the moon, but worshipping Hashem.

7. Pesach and Sukkot are weeklong holidays, but Shavuot is only one day in the Torah. Why is Shavuot slighted? The Midrash (Sifre Parshat Re’eh) gives a completely different perspective. Pesach and Sukkot are weeklong festivals, and Shavuot should be one as well. But Pesach and Sukkot come out on the calendar when agricultural workers have the time off to celebrate. They are not needed to work the fields at that time, Shavuot, on the other hand, comes out at a busy time in the field. Hence the Torah celebrates Shavuot for only one day. The Torah is concerned over the economy and the repercussions of the Biblical holidays on the agricultural economy of the people. (RED’s note: We similarly take into concern the work schedule. The Yishtabach prayer is actually quite long. It really starts with Nishmat. During the week, when we work, our Rabbis do not say Nishmat. They shortened the Yishtabach prayer in order to allow us to get to work!)


All three of the selected haftorot for the Three Weeks have the purpose of bringing to our minds the understanding of the exile, the knowledge of the causes of its occurrence and its duration.  The national custom of imposing a character of mourning on these weeks is not to commemorate the events of the past, but to bring home to us the shortcomings and sins of every contemporary age of the exile.  Just as the Kohan serves as a priest to the people of Israel, so was the role of the Jewish people to serve as the priesthood of the human race.  God appoints Bnei Yisrael to this task just as He appoints the prophet to serve even before his birth.  To be a prophet unto the nations did I ordain you, is a statement made not only to the prophet Jeremiah but also to all of Israel.  (Hirsch.)

Wed, October 28 2020 10 Cheshvan 5781