Parshat Pinchas: Weekly Torah Portion Summary, Questions, Resources

07/13/2012 09:42 am ET | Updated Sep 12, 2012

Editor's note: The HuffTorah is an overview of the Torah reading of the week, which is found in the Book of Numbers 25:10-30:1, and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Pinchas in interlinear Hebrew/English.

"Pinchas son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest has calmed my anger," God tells Moses. "Through his violent and vengeful zealotry, for killing Zimri and Cozbi, he has saved the Children of Israel. For this I give him my covenant of peace. And for endless days will he be a priest."

God says more. Like, strike down the Midianites. And take a new census of those fit for army service (ages 20 and up). Their numbers are vast, as Moses soon finds out in the plains of Moab:

  • The descendants of Reuben number 43,730
  • Simeon's descendants amount to 22,200
  • 40,500 from the tribe of Gad
  • From Judah, 67,500 people
  • From Issachar, 64,300
  • There are 60,500 Zebulunites
  • Joseph's descendants, through Ephraim and Menasseh, total 85,200
  • From Benjamin we have 45,600
  • From Dan, 64,400
  • Asher's ilk equal 53,400
  • And from Naphtali come 54,400
In total, the Souls of Israel who are eligible to fight equal 601,750.

God tells Moses to apportion the Land to the tribes by size: smaller tribes gets less land, larger tribes get more. Apportion via a miraculous talking lottery. ("You know about magic talking lotteries, right Moses?" God asks.)

The Levites, too, are counted -- there are 23,000 of them -- but they are counted separately and do not receive an inheritance of land.

Not a single person counted in the original census is included in this census.

Questions: Why is Pinchas rewarded with a covenant of peace after violently killing others on his own accord? How are there approximately the same number of Israelites now as there were soon after leaving Egypt, 40 years earlier?

Now, some fair daughters from the tribe of Menasseh approach Moses, Eleazar, the tribal leaders and all of the Children of Israel. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah present their case: "Our father had no sons, and for his own sins he died in the desert. We are his only offspring. Give us a portion of land as you have given to our father's brothers."

Moses doesn't know what to do, so he brings the case to God, who says the daughters speak well and truly. God commands Moses to give them a double portion of land and then explains the laws of inheritance:

  • When a man dies without sons, his daughters shall inherit.
  • When a man dies without daughters, his brothers shall inherit.
  • When a man dies without brothers, his father's brothers shall inherit.
  • When a man dies and his father has no brothers, the closest patrilineal relative shall inherit.
"Come now, Moses," God says. "Ascend these mountains and look out over the Land that I am giving to the Children. Gaze upon it, and then you will be gathered to your people as your brother and your sister were gathered."

"Knower of thoughts!" Moses responds. "Appoint someone competent to lead the people -- someone who will charge first in war and return safely in victory."

And God takes no time to respond: "Convince your own servant Joshua to be leader. Place your hand upon him. Present him to the priest and to all the people. Instruct him then, and grant him some of the prophetic glow. When he must go to war, tell him to stand before Eleazar, the priest, who will interpret the law through the Urim."

Moses does this.

Questions: Why is Moses allowed to look upon the land? Why doesn't he argue with God about not being let in to Israel? Why can't Moses give all of his prophetic powers over to Joshua? Why must Joshua learn the law through the priest who must clarify it through the Urim? What are the Urim anyway?

Plenty are the laws concerning communal offerings. God explains it all to Moses.

The court should make sure that a fire-offering of two perfect lambs in their first year is brought daily: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. A meal-offering mixed with crushed olive oil should be brought, too. This is a daily burnt offering -- a pleasant aroma for God. It should be accompanied by some strong wine.

On the Sabbath, bring two perfect lambs in their first year, a meal-offering mixed with oil and wine. Each Sabbath must have its own offering. This is to be brought in addition to the regular daily offering.

For the New Moon, at the beginning of the month, bring two young bulls, one ram and seven lambs -- all perfect and in their first year. Bring an appropriate meal-offering and libation with each bull, ram and lamb. Each month must have its own offering. One young male goat must be brought as a sin offering. All this must be brought on top of the daily offering.

For Passover (on the 14th day of the first month), a Passover-offering must be brought. The next day is the beginning of a festival. Unleavened bread must be eaten for one week. On the first day, no manual work may be performed. A burnt-offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven lambs in their first year, all perfect, should be brought, along with appropriate meal-offerings and libations. One young male goat must be brought as a sin offering. All this must be brought on top of the daily offering. The same offerings should be made on the rest of the days of Passover. A pleasant aroma for God. The seventh day, too, is holy: No work may be performed.

The same offerings should be brought during the Festival of Weeks, which is a holy the celebration of the first fruits of the new crop.

For the New Year, on the first day of the seventh month, when you sound the ram's horn and perform no work, bring one young bull, one ram and seven lambs in their first year -- all perfect, of course -- along with appropriate meal-offerings, the single goat sin-offering and the daily offerings.

For the Day of Atonement, 10 days later, afflict yourselves, perform no work and bring the same offerings as above.

On the 15th day of the seventh month, observe the holy celebration of the Festival of Tabernacles. Do not perform manual work. On the first day, offer 13 young bulls, two rams and 14 lambs in their first year. Offer, also, the regular sin-offering and daily offerings. On each successive day, bring one less bull so that on the seventh day you bring seven bulls, two rams and 14 lambs in their first year, along with the regular offerings.

On the eighth day of the Festival of the Tabernacles, do not perform manual work. Bring one bull, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year -- perfect all. Bring the goat sin-offerings as well as the daily burnt- and meal-offerings.

Offer all of this as well as your vowed and impromptu voluntary offerings, your burnt-offerings, your meal-offerings, your wine-offerings and your peace-offerings.

Moses tells the Children of Israel all that God has told him.

Questions: If no manual work may be done on the festivals, why are the regular sacrifices still made, not to mention the special offerings? Why do the bull offerings for the Festival of the Tabernacles decrease every day?

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:

  • Haftorah Pinchas -- In the supplemental haftorah, found in Kings I 18:46-19:21, the last prophet, Elijah, wanders into the wilderness, fearing for his life. (My Jewish Learning)
  • Rashi on Parshat Pinchas -- The classic commentator in all his interpretive glory. (Chabad)
  • The Animated Parshat Pinchas -- "...the badder than bad, cooler than cool, great sisterly legal minds of the Book of Numbers: the Daughters of Tselophechad." (G-dcast)
  • Sustenance From the Source -- "We need to strengthen our access to sustenance, both physical and spiritual, by feeling our connection to the land, even though we might live in modern cities. We can do this by making human health and wellbeing a goal in the architecture and scale of our cities, and planetary health and wellbeing a guiding force in planning our source of nutrition." (Canfei Nesharim)
  • Healing Through Alignment -- "Throughout the week, take note of those people in your life whose very presence is healing. Understand that this is an effect of their internal alignment." (IYYUN)
  • A Cautionary Tale For Activists -- "In our pursuit of justice, of shaping a world that embraces our sense of morality, how do we ensure that our actions are not rash and clouded, but rather mindful and clear? How do we ensure that these moments of radical activism bring healing and not destruction?" (AJWS)
  • Additional sources and related texts compiled on Wikipedia.