Parashat Pinchas, found in the book of Numbers, encompasses a range of important themes and narratives that hold valuable lessons for a religious Jewish audience. This commentary explores the plot points surrounding Pinchas’ actions, the aftermath of his zeal, the offerings for Shavuot, and the story of the daughters of Tzelafchad. Through these narratives, we delve into the significance of righteousness, divine connection, and the importance of upholding justice and continuity.
The parasha begins in the middle of the story of Pinchas’ zealotry. When many Israelites had suddenly engaged in immorality and idolatry with the Midianite women sent by Balak, Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, took swift action. In a moment of zeal, in one strike he speared Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, and Cozbi, a Midianite woman who was the daughter of the prince, who were publically engaging in illicit behavior. Not only was this a forbidden relationship, but the severity of the disregard for privacy, their prominent positions, and the acts’ role in an idolatrous ceremony was too perverse to allow.
God commends Pinchas for his zealotry in upholding His honor and covenant. In Numbers 25:12-13, God says, “Therefore tell him that I am making My covenant of peace with him. It shall be for him and his descendants after him a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he took up the cause of his God and made expiation for the Israelites.” Pinchas becomes the Cohen Gadol (high priest) thereafter, and all the high priests of both the Fist- and Second Temple periods were of his line. Pinchas’ actions highlight the importance of zeal in defending God’s honor and upholding the values of righteousness. However, it is not to say everyone should become a vigilante, as Pinchas was aware of all the laws, as well as an understanding that his actions were done with a righteous anger. The average person cannot be trusted to have that level of self-awareness.
Later in Parashat Pinchas, we encounter the story of the daughters of Tzelafchad . These women, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, approached Moshe and the leaders, questioning their right to inherit their father’s portion of the land since he had no sons. Moshe seeks guidance from God, who confirms that the daughters are entitled to inherit their father’s portion when there are no sons. This is not only important for women, but helps to keep each of the twelve tribes internally strong.
In Numbers 28, the parashah details the offerings and rituals to be performed during the festival of Shavuot, specifically the Shtei Lechem offering. The Israelites were instructed to bring a unique offering of two loaves of bread made from the first wheat harvest. This offering symbolizes gratitude for God’s provision and blessings, highlighting the significance of recognizing and appreciating the abundance in our lives.
A Lesson from Parashat Pinchas
Parashat Pinchas has an internal dichotomy that is important for understanding one’s role as a Jew. On the one hand, Pinchas is praised and rewarded for taking matters into his own hands. Everything he does is in accordance with halahca (Jewish law) but which was practically only applicable for someone on a very high spiritual level who could know himself that he was acting on pure intentions. Meanwhile the daughters of Tzelafchad ask Moshe on a law of inheritance which he cannot answer immediately. Only upon asking God was Moshe able to resolve this new issue.
So should one act brazenly, or humbly when matters arise that have never before come up?
In truth, it all depends on intention. Neither Pinchas nor the daughters of Tzelafchad were acting for ego, selfishness, or the rewards for their own sake. When one knows one’s mission, it is imperative to act with alacrity and zeal, and in matters of doubt, to admit to needing to learn more. We see at another point in the parasha that some of the Israelites take part in a charge that they surely wouldn’t come back from, but their actions are viewed as negligent, foolhardy, and egoistic. By incorporating these teachings into our lives, we can foster a stronger connection with God, cultivate gratitude, and actively uphold justice and equality in our communities.