The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tammuz 10, 5771/July 12, 2011

Exceptional Sons and Daughters

This week's Torah reading of Pinchas contains within its lines two separate narratives, seemingly disparate in every way. But if we reexamine the two incidents, thinking outside of the box, we will discover that the two "mutually exclusive" events really share much in common. The first account, which opens our reading, concerns Pinchas, himself. The verses are, in fact, describing the aftermath of the incident which closed the previous chapter of the book of Numbers, namely, Pinchas' zealous response to the licentious and idolatrous behavior of certain segments of the children of Israel.

To quickly recapture what transpired, after an emergency assembly of the elders, at which Moshe instructed "'Each of you shall kill the men who became attached to Baal Peor.'" (Numbers 25:5), Pinchas, without hesitation, took upon himself the responsibility of dispatching with the particularly odious case of Zimri, the head of the tribe of Shim'on and his consort Cozbi the Midianite, effectively stilling G-d's anger and staying the plague that was consuming Israel.

The second account alluded to above is the story of the five daughter's of Tzelaphchad. The five women approach Moshe with a particular dilemma:

"'Our father died in the desert, but he was not in the assembly that banded together against HaShem in Korach's assembly, but he died for his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should our father's name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father's brothers. '" (ibid 27:2-3)

In other words, Torah has prescribed that, upon his demise a father's inheritance should be received by his sons. In this case, however, there were no sons. Since the Torah laws concerning the future apportionment of the land of Israel were now being declared by Moshe, this was the correct time for the daughters to step forward and ask for clarification. What is the connection between this seemingly technical issue and the previous dramatic and violent, nation-threatening circumstance involving Pinchas, Zimri and Cozbi?

In both cases a question of character is raised, and in both cases, G-d Himself is called upon to resolve the issue. Our reading opens:

"HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: 'Pinchas the son of Eleazar the son of Aharon the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal.'" (ibid 25:10-11) The classic commentator, Rashi, explains that G-d makes mention of Pinchas' lineage all the way to his grandfather Aharon, in order to quell the murmurings among the Israelite encampment as to Pinchas' Jewish bonafides. Through Pinchas' mother's side, his grandfather has been an idolater. Shaken by the violence of his actions, there were those who questioned the righteousness of his act. Casting doubt as to his "authenticity" was their way of expressing their doubt as to the motivation behind his attack on Zimri and Cozbi. G-d clearly states here that Pinchas was the direct descendant of the High Priest Aharon, known for his sympathetic nature and his lifelong pursuit of peace and goodwill amongst Israel. G-d then seals His approval of Pinchas with the following: "'I hereby give him My covenant of peace.'" (ibid 25:12) End of story.

The matter which concerned Machlah, Noa, Choglah, Milchah, and Tirtzah, the five daughters of Tzelaphchad, was neither cataclysmic nor controversial, as was our other incident, but its ramifications were of no less consequence, nonetheless. The case of Pinchas required immediate extra-judiciary action, and therefore necessitated the a posteriori approval of G-d. In the case of the five daughters, their inquiry was unprecedented, and therefore required of Moshe to make a direct appeal before HaShem. G-d's answer confirmed the rightness of their cause:

"HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: "'Tzelaphchad's daughters speak justly. You shall certainly give them a portion of inheritance along with their father's brothers, and you shall transfer their father's inheritance to them. Speak to the children of Israel saying: If a man dies and has no son, you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.'" (ibid 27:6-8) Just as in the case of Pinchas, here in the case of the five daughters, what was required was a change in the status quo, and this could only be sanctioned by G-d Himself.

If Torah understands these two seemingly unconnected incidents to be of equal weight, and if G-d's immediate intervention in both cases attests to His attributing equal importance to both cases, then we certainly should understand that to stand up for what one truly believes to be right and to be justified, within the framework of Torah, even if, or especially when, this requires of us an expanded and renewed knowledge of Torah, is beloved in G-d's eyes.

We have already seen how G-d called upon Pinchas' celebrated lineage as a character witness on his behalf. Concerning the five daughters, we witness a different phenomenon. The daughters themselves, upon first approaching Moshe, mention that their father "died for his own sin, and he had no sons." (ibid 27:3) Not only is their father's sin not held against the daughters, but the Torah, as our sages explain, abstains from mentioning the nature of his sin, for reasons of modesty and out of respect for and as a tribute to the daughters' righteousness.

Torah is telling us, by the juxtaposition of these two incidents, separated only by the listing of tribal bloodlines, that every individual, regardless of his or her ancestral descent, is treasured by G-d, and that if we are true to G-d and to His Torah, then G-d Himself will intervene on our behalf in time of need. Both Pinchas and the five daughters of Tzelaphchad were exceptions which proved the virtue of Torah rule. We, like each of them, each possess within our beings the potential to be truly exceptional sons and daughters of no less than G-d Himself.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Yitzchak Reuven and special guest host Tzvi Richman contemplate how Pinchas, the mild and humble grandson of Aharon had to think and act fast to stay the plague devouring Israel. His exceptional act of moral courage raised many eyebrows and even more questions, then and now. Yitzchak and Tzvi carefully analyze Pinchas, the legacy he was born into and the legacy he helped to create, and try to understand why G-d Himself dispelled all the doubts about Pinchas, by awarding him His "Covenant of Peace."

Complete Show