Torah Weekly

For the week ending 11 July 2020 / 19 Tammuz 5780

Parshat Pinchas

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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G-d tells Moshe to inform Pinchas that Pinchas will receive G-d's "covenant of peace" as a reward for his bold action — executing Zimri and the Midianite princess Kozbi. G-d commands Moshe to maintain a state of enmity with the Midianites, who lured the Jewish People into sin. Moshe and Elazar are told to count the Jewish People. The Torah lists the names of the families in each tribe. The total number of males eligible to serve in the army is 601,730. G-d instructs Moshe how to allot the Land of Israel to Bnei Yisrael. The number of the Levites' families is recorded.

Tzlofchad's daughters file a claim with Moshe. In the absence of a brother, they request their late father's portion in the Land. Moshe asks G-d for the ruling, and G‑d tells Moshe that their claim is just. The Torah teaches the laws and priorities which determine the order of inheritance.

G-d tells Moshe that he will ascend a mountain and view the Land that the Jewish People will soon enter, although Moshe himself will not enter it. Moshe asks G-d to designate the subsequent leader, and G-d selects Yehoshua bin Nun. Moshe ordains Yehoshua as his successor in the presence of the entire nation. The parsha concludes with special teachings of the service in the Beit Hamikdash.


Know Your Enemy

“Harass the Midianites and smite them” (25:17)

I think I’m not alone in finding it difficult to maintain an appropriate weight for my height and my age. (In other words: “The Battle of the Bulge”). One of the techniques that seems to work is to “know your enemy.” I remember once sitting in front of a beautiful and delicious piece of cake and saying to the cake, “Cake, I love you, but you hate me!”

Demonization — the stigmatizing of other’s beliefs not in accord with one’s own — is usually seen as an irrational defense, and is called upon only by those who are uncertain of the rightness of their own beliefs in the first place.

Take the case of the “battle cry” for example. A battle cry is a yell or chant taken up in battle to arouse aggression and esprit de corps on one's own side (and cause intimidation on the hostile side.) Often the battle cry is a way of submerging one’s own lack of confidence. Now I doubt that the aforementioned piece of cake was much affrighted by my “battle cry” — but it worked to remind me that the beguiling fondant cream oozing from the cake was really half-an-hour on the treadmill. As the Italians say: “A moment on the lips — a lifetime on the hips.”

But raise the stakes a bit, and things get to be more serious. Maybe instead of considering the challenge of merely a couple of (hundred) extra calories, consider instead the lure of big-time lust and immorality. What do you do to fight that?

“Harass the Midianites and smite them”

There are two commandments in this passage: The first is to view the Midianites as enemies — to demonize them — and then to concretize that perception by constantly harassing them. The word “harass” here is in the infinitive, to imply a constant state of mind rather than just a specific and tangible action. The lust for immoral pleasure, which is the very essence of Midian, can only be counteracted by a constant state of loathing. And that can come only by demonization. And that mindset results only from a constant internal battle cry.

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