“It’s not all about you, Grandma”. Well, that’s what my then five year old grand-daughter told me! And the same can be said of this sedra – although it’s named after him, it’s not all about Pinchas. But let’s start with the conundrum of Pinchas. Last week’s sedra ends with the account of how Pinchas killed a man and a Midianite woman committing adultery in an idolatrous orgy. Although this week’s sedra tells us that God rewarded Pinchas with a ‘convenant of peace’ (25.12) and in psalm 106 we learn that his zeal ‘was counted unto him for righteousness, unto all generations for ever’, Pinchas’s zealotry was not completely accepted. Surprisingly, the Talmud recounts that even the angels were doubtful. Had Pinchas acted out of purity of heart or was there some hidden personal agenda?
The next topic concerns the second census taken nearly forty years after the first. The Land was shortly to be divided amongst the tribes and the exact number of fighting men and families had to be known. Lots of genealogy for those who are fashionably looking into their family trees! What interests me most is God does not punish the children for the sins of their parents. There’s always a chance things can change. The prime example here is Korach. Despite his rebellious actions (16: 1-19), his sons are numbered amongst the Israelites that will enter the Promised Land “ Notwithstanding the sons of Korach died not “ (26:11).
The third topic is well ahead of its time. The daughters of Zelophehad receive a just ruling allowing them to retain their father’s land (27:1-11). The midrash at the bottom of page 691 in the Hertz Chumash is truly a feminist statement in its very best sense. “God’s love is not like the love a mortal father; the latter prefers his sons to his daughters, but He that created the world extends His love to all His Children. His tender mercies are over all His works”.
The sedra ends with a description of the daily and festival offerings but just before that there is a mind-blowing insight into the amazing character that is Moses. God tells Moses to go up the mountain to see the Promised Land that he will not enter. God tells Moses that he will die. Pretty harsh stuff! Moses responds with no thought for himself but with every thought for his People. Who will be their leader “that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep, which have no shepherd” (27:17). As in Sufism and other mystic traditions, Moses has climbed to the top of the metaphorical ladder and lost all trace of ego. It’s not all about Moses.