This week’s parsha (Numbers, ch. 25) describes an extremely unusual incident that seems to contradict much of Jewish ideals. Up until now, the Torah has praised love of fellow man, righteousness, resolving disputes, etc. Yet here is an episode where Pinchas, a minor player in the hierarchy of the Israelites, seemingly takes the law in his own hands, kills one of the leaders in an act of zealousy – and instead of being rebuked, he is elevated in stature by God. Not only that, but he is given the “blessing of shalom,” peace. What’s peaceful about what he did? The “slayee” had done some pretty bad things, and flaunted it in public. But does that really justify Pinchas’ actions? This seems to violate the standard Torah law that if a person deserves the death penalty, they need a court case, witnesses, etc. and then a punishment is meted out with the court’s supervision. Nowhere do we see the idea of vigilantism or personal justice like this.
Rabbi Max Weiman comments: ‘The story of Pinchas teaches us something about the Jewish idea of destiny. Every human being is designed by God with character traits, talents and surroundings that help mold the person. Although “it’s a free country,” we really should examine ourselves carefully to see if the Almighty had anything particular in mind when He created us. What pursuits do I enjoy? What am I talented at? Many people feel that the Almighty set them up in a position to fulfill a role or a profession. Nothing is by accident. As it says in the Talmud, “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man” (Avot 2:6). This means that if you’re in a situation where something needs to be done, and no one seems to be doing it, push yourself to do it.
Now certainly that doesn’t mean we should always wait around and leave what needs to be done to others, and only if no one’s taking care of it do we jump in. It’s possible to suggest that what the sages mean is that if you’re in such a situation, it’s not an accident. You might just be fulfilling the unique role that you were given the tools for. For Pinchas, it was the right time, and the right pace, and he stepped forward to meet the need of the moment.’
“Moses placed his hands on Joshua” (Numbers, 27:22). One of the signs of a great leader is the ability to do what is best for his people, not what is best for himself or his family. Rashi explains that as Moses approached the end of his life, he hoped that one of his sons would succeed him as the leader of the Jewish nation. Rabbi Ron Jawary explains that God, however, had different plans and told him that Joshua would be the next leader. Interestingly, Moses immediately accepted the decision and, rather than appointing Joshua with inner resentment and ill will, he showered Joshua with blessings, going far beyond what God had asked him to do. True leadership involves the recognition that it is less important who does the job than getting the job done properly.
The daughters of Tzelafchad approached . . . (27:1)In that generation, the women repaired what the men broke down. Midrash Rabbah explains: ‘You find that Aaron told them: “Break off the golden rings which are in the ears of your wives” (to make the golden calf—Exodus 32:2), but the women refused and held back their husbands, as is proved by the fact that it says (ibid. v. 3) “All the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears,” the women not participating with them in making the calf. It was the same in the case of the spies, who uttered an evil report: “The men… when they returned, made all the congregation to murmur against Him” (Numbers 14:36), and against this congregation the decree [not to enter the Land] was issued, because they had said: “We are not able to go up” (ibid. v. 31). The women, however, were not with them in their counsel, as may be inferred from the fact that it is written in an earlier passage of our Parshah, “For G‑d had said of them: They shall surely die in the desert. There was left not a man of them, save Caleb the son of Yefuneh . . .” (ibid. v. 65). The men had been unwilling to enter the Land; the women petitioned to receive an inheritance in the Land.’
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim