Torah Weekly - Parshat Pinchas

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Parshat Pinchas

For the week ending 19 Tammuz 5760 / 21 & 22 July 2000

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    Hashem tells Moshe to inform Pinchas that Pinchas will receive Hashem's "covenant of peace" as reward for his bold action -- executing Zimri and the Midianite princess Kozbi. Hashem commands Moshe that the people must maintain a state of enmity with the Midianites because they 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. Hashem 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 Hashem for the ruling, and Hashem tells Moshe that their claim is just. The Torah teaches the laws and priorities which determine the order of inheritance. Hashem 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. Moshe asks Hashem to designate the subsequent leader, and Hashem 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.




    "I give him My covenant of peace." (25:12)

    We live in a world where sentimentality has replaced feeling.

    On the one hand, we see righteous indignation on all subjects PC: "Save the Whales!" "Save the environment!" "Save religious women from the tyranny of 'over-large' families!" (You can almost smell the brimstone emanating from the holy noses of the media pundits who labor day and night to raise our moral standards.) On the other hand, events took place here in Israel a few weeks ago that make the hair stand on the back of your neck:

    About a month ago, Michael Bar-Am and Efraim Dawishe were in their cars, jockeying for position back and forth from one traffic lane to another. At one point, Bar-Am sideswiped Dawishe in anger. Dawishe then followed Bar-Am to his workplace south of Tel Aviv, where they argued and exchanged blows in the parking lot before a crowd of spectators. Dawishe, 28, then knocked Bar-Am to the ground and beat him to death. Neither Dawishe nor the victim had a criminal record, police said.

    Within days of this murder, 19-year-old Alon Michaeli was stabbed to death with a broken beer bottle in a dispute over a beach chair. Most chilling of all, in a separate incident, a 2-year-old was beaten to death, allegedly for disturbing an adult watching a soccer match.

    In two of these incidents, nobody lifted a finger to help the victim. People watched and did nothing.

    What kind of society is it that can engender such apathy at unspeakable acts of violence while preaching its concern for the poor, the needy, the environment and the whales? Poor whales.

    Prime Minister Ehud Barak called for a realignment of national priorities. "No soccer game or argument over a parking space or over a beach chair should stand between us and preserving life," Barak told Israelis.

    I never fail to marvel at the ability of politicians to intone the blindingly obvious as though it was a matter of great revelation.

    "Every citizen in the country must act to stop these incidents, with all our means," said Barak, adding that he planned to convene his Cabinet to examine the surge in violence.

    A World Health Organization sponsored study last year ranked Israel in the top 10 Western countries for schoolyard violence. Israeli minister Ben-Ami reported that the national statistics for such violent incidents had quadrupled from 1991 to 1999.

    These acts of mindless violence reveal a frightening emptiness in the soul of the nation. What is being done about it? One pundit recommended that the Israeli government set up a committee on violence modeled on "successful" U.S. violence reduction programs that targeted schools and communities: "The problem in Israel is very, very simple -- we have not yet implemented such a strategy," he opined.

    American culture is the most violent in the world. A quick trip down the aisles of your local "Wars-are-us" will reveal how Western society inculcates violence into the brains of toddlers.

    In this week's Torah portion, we read of an incident that, on the surface, looks like it could have been culled from a contemporary newspaper: A lone assailant picks up a spear and, in front of a vast crowd, murders a prince and a princess in cold blood. Their only crime -- they are "romantically involved."

    You would think that G-d would have punished Pinchas severely, and yet, He confers priesthood on Pinchas and all his descendants -- "My covenant of peace."


    A society that runs on sentimentality will ultimately turn around and perform acts of unspeakable cruelty. In Nazi Germany, the first law that was passed against Judaism was the outlawing of shechita, kosher slaughter or animals. And during the war, the German society for the prevention of cruelty to animals sent a memo to the SS to ask them to please slow down the deportation of Jews to concentration camps because they couldn't keep up with the volume of pets for which new homes had to be found.

    The word for peace in Hebrew also means wholeness and perfection. There is only one true peace. There is only one true Perfection. By definition, if we do what G-d wants, we are performing an act of peace, we are bringing the world to its perfection -- even if that act looks like violent murder. If we act against the Creator, though modern culture may praise our liberality and our cultured open-mindedness, we have waged war on reality. We have laid waste the world as surely as an atomic plant melt-down.

    • Binyomin Yerushalmi in Yated Neeman, AP wire service


    Yirmiyahu 1:1 - 23


    "Divrei Yirmiyahu" is the first haftara of the "Three-of-Affliction" trilogy read between 17 Tammuz and 9 Av. It contains Yirmiyahu's ominous vision of Israel's ruin and first exile at the hand of Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar.

    Yirmiyahu's vision of a menacing, almond-wood rod indicates that the time of Israel's punishment is ripening, like the hasty ripening of an almond; a cauldron boiling at its north lip warns that Israel's northern neighbor, Babylon, will wield that rod. But if they repent, G-d will remember their "youthful kindness" when, as a fledgling nation, they forsook a familiar Egypt and like a starry-eyed bride followed G-d into a frightening wasteland.


    In his introduction to the Book of Yirmiyahu, Malbim notes that this book contains more "irregularities" in spelling and grammar than any other book of Tanach. This, explains Malbim, is due to the exalted nature of Yirmiyahu's vision, which can almost be compared to that of Moshe's. Just as the Five Books of Moses contain untold layers of meaning, many of them hinted through oddities of spelling and grammar, so too, the book of Yirmiyahu reaches beyond the normal bounds of expression due to Yirmiyahu's lofty grasp, above that of most other prophets.

    The Sages sum up the Book of Yirmiyahu as "entirely destruction." Even in English, "a jeremiah" is any predictor of gloom and doom. Why, indeed, did G-d specifically invest such a great Prophet, one of the very greatest, with the vision of Israel's destruction and exile?

    "All G-d does is for the good," say our Sages. Perhaps Yirmiyahu's exalted perception was the very reason he was chosen to bring word of the exile; from his lofty vantage point, he -- like no other in his generation -- could perceive the joy hidden in the tears.

    Love of the Land
    Selections from classical Torah sources
    which express the special relationship between
    the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael


    Not far from Beit Shemesh, spreading between the site of ancient Azekah and modern Kfar Zecharia, is the Valley of Elah where David slew the mighty Goliath. Named for the elah (terebinth) trees which grow on the surrounding mountains, this is where King Saul and the men of Israel gathered and set up their battle lines against the Philistine invaders (Shmuel I, 17:2) and achieved victory through David's slingshot.

    Love of the Land Archives

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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