Parshat Pinchas: Looking For the Good

Photo: COSV from Wikimedia Commons. Women Gathering Wood, South Sudan

My friend Sylvia (who says I’m her favorite female rabbi) is almost 98–may she live and be well–and is often troubled by the harsher judgments and more problematic passages in the Torah. And rightly so; there are plenty of times when our idea of a compassionate God who forgives sin is challenged.

As someone who was marching for women’s and civil rights while I was a toddler, Sylvia has a strong sense of justice, and I was reminded of that while I was reading this week’s parashah, Pinchas. Stuck in between Pinchas’ vigilante justice that stops a plague and the listing of sacrifices for various days and festivals, is a division of the land among the 12 Tribes, passed down from father to son.

Five women, the Daughters of Zelophechad; Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, petition Moses. “They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korach’s faction, which banded together against Adonai, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!”

Moses brings the matter to God, who rules that they should be allowed to inherit their father’s land. We have to wonder, however, who is Zelophechad, and what was his sin? Our sages connect him with a man previously in parshat Beha’alotekha, who was found gathering wood on Shabbat. Here, too, Moses brought the matter to God, and the reply was that the man should be stoned.

Gathering wood on Shabbat is a forbidden activity, but we also learn that Shabbat can be violated in order to save or preserve a life. In what I call “The Midrash According to Sylvia,” we have just such a situation–the unnamed man is gathering wood “to make a fire to warm someone who is sick.” Even the Rambam (Moses Maimonides) couldn’t argue if that were the case!

What if his intent in gathering the wood really was to preserve life? The text never tells us that this man was given “a fair trial,” or even the ability to tell his side of the story. Did the Holy One of Blessing jump to an incorrect conclusion? Perhaps, specifically allowing Zelophechad’s daughters to inherit his holdings is a tikkun, a way of righting a wrong?

We may never get a satisfactory answer, but Sylvia’s take on this reminds us to look for the good; to try and find positive motivation and give people the benefit of the doubt.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Latest Sermons

Shoftim: Can Destruction be Just?
Shoftim: Can Destruction be Just?

Photo: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. The spotted lantern fly has arrived in our area, and we’re being advised to squash them if we see them. This bug has no natural...

VaEtchanan: Until His Final Breath
VaEtchanan: Until His Final Breath

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/maltin75/6278446183 “Observe God’s laws and commandments, which I enjoin upon you this day, that it may go well with you and your children after you, and that you may long remain in the land that the LORD your God is assigning to you...

Shabbat for the 4th of July
Shabbat for the 4th of July

Photo credit: publicdomainpibtures.net Shabbat for the Fourth of July Two hundred and 46 years ago, the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence, and in addition to stating a litany of grievances against tyrannical British...

Latest Midrash HaZak

Ekev: Standing on their Shoulders
Ekev: Standing on their Shoulders

  Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buff_Bill's_Circus Parashat Ekev Rabbi Arnie Samlan Ekev, the third reading in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), is a continuation of Moses’ farewell address to the Israelite nation poised to enter the Promised Land....

VaEtchanan: Rav Lach, It Is Enough For You
VaEtchanan: Rav Lach, It Is Enough For You

Photo by Rabbi Susan Elkodsi Va’Etchanan: Rav Lach, It is enough for you Rabbi Janet Madden, Ph.D Parshat Va’Etchanan opens with Moshe’s recounting to the new generation of Israelites that he pleaded with the Holy One to allow him to enter the Land of Israel. He...

Massei: The Journals of the Journeys
Massei: The Journals of the Journeys

Parashat Massei: The Journal of the Journeys Rabbi Ron Isaacs In 1960 I spent the summer at Camp Ramah in Canada. Advertised as a Hebrew-speaking camp, it was my first summer away from home. I decided to document my 8-week summer by keeping a diary which I still have...

Latest Personal Blogs

Blessing My Bended Knees-A Poem
Blessing My Bended Knees-A Poem

This past week, I participated in a Ritualwell class with Alden Solovy on "Writing From One Word of Torah." I distilled 3 stream-of-consciousness prompts on the word "Baruch/Berekh," the root of which can mean "blessing' and "knee, into this poem. Blessing my bended...

The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives
The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives

Photo: publicdomainpictures.net The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives An email from My Jewish Learning about “A Woman of Valor” prompted me to pivot the next evening’s planned adult learning session to looking at these 22 verses from Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs. These verses...

Live Long and Prosper?
Live Long and Prosper?

By Oklahoma Heritage Association, Gaylord-Pickens Museum - Author, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25656727 Live Long and Prosper? January 5, 2022 began the third year of the seven and a half-year cycle of Daf Yomi, the practice of...

Pin It on Pinterest