Thoughts on Pinchas

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha, Pinchas, Numbers 25:10-30:1,[i] continues the narrative begun last week with Balaam. Only in this week’s parasha, Israel falls prey to Balaam’s suggestions on how to cause HaShem to curse Israel even though he (Balaam) had not been able to do so (Numbers 25:1-9). Also in this week’s parasha, we read about the second census of Israel. This census is to ascertain all who are of age to serve in army in preparation of entering into the Promised Land.

Another episode in this week’s parasha, which I find specifically relevant, concerns the five daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-7). In the primarily patriarchal world of the Ancient Near East, the family inheritance, especially land, was passed on to the firstborn son of the father, thus perpetuating the family name. In Deuteronomy 21:15-17 we read that even if the firstborn son is of the less favored wife (yes for a longtime polygamy was acceptable), he would receive the inheritance. In the case of Zelophehad’s daughters, they are not disputing the reality of normative practice, but the perpetuation of the family name in their particular situation, “Why should our father’s name diminish from his family just because he had no son?” (Numbers 27:4). Moshe could have said, “this is the way it has been, this is the way it is, and this is the way it will always be!”  But he didn’t. Moshe also could have ruled according to his own understanding of the HaShem’s revelation as he had explained to his father-in-law Yithro.

“When they (Bnei Yisrael) have an issue, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, so I make them understand God’s statutes and His laws.” (Exodus 18:16)

However, this being a potentially volatile situation, Moshe turns to HaShem for His direction in the situation. The response from HaShem was simple and to the point,

“The daughters of Zelophehad are right in saying you should give them property by inheritance among their father’s relatives. You are to turn over the inheritance of their father to them.” (Numbers 27:7)

The daughters operated within normal parameters of the Torah; they saw a problem that they could not solved within the direct parameters of Torah, so they took it to the leader who could. Consequently, the inheritance laws for Israel were adjusted, forever. The firstborn son still was the heir. However, HaShem clarifies the situation stating, “Furthermore, you are to speak to Bnei-Yisrael saying: If a man dies without a son, you are to transfer his inheritance to his daughter” (27:8). It is important to remember that one of the primary reasons for the inheritance was to secure the family name and land allotment, so the there was a restriction place upon the daughters

This is the word that ADONAI commands for the daughters of Zelophehad saying: “They may become wives to whomever they please, as long as they marry within the family of the tribe of their father.” (Number 36:6)

Thus, the laws of inheritance were amended and clarified to cover this new situation.

Imagine for a minute the feelings of the five daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They saw a problem; their father’s name and land were going to be lost as he had no male heir. Not only that, but their own standing in the community would potentially suffer without an inheritance or family protection. HaShem did not leave them in this situation but adjusted the “Law” to accommodate the need. He did not set aside the “Law;” if a daughter was the firstborn child and she had a baby brother, the brother would still be the heir, in that nothing changed. However, these five daughters pushed the envelope so to speak and, in the process, effected change.

Last month my wife, with my blessing, also pushed the envelope of normally accepted behavior when she received her smicha (Rabbinic ordination) through the laying on of hands by the rabbis of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. At that point Vered joined a line of firsts.

…Judith Eisenstein, who was the first to become a bat mitzvah in 1922, and in the first women ordained as rabbis: Regina Jonas (in 1935), Sally Priesand (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1973), Sandy Sasso (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1974), and Amy Eilberg (Jewish Theological Seminary in 1985).[ii]

Vered like Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, and others, has opened the door for future women who seek to follow ADONAI in exercising the gifts and callings that the Ruach has placed within them. It is safe to say that the Zelophehad’s daughters did not receive immediate acceptance any more than the women mentioned above did, but they all persevered. Today there are women in multiple areas of ministry that were once closed to them due to gender or social status. Equally there are young women who see the potential to be much more than ever before. The desire is not to change the Scripture, but to interpret it so that it is living and applicable.

The regular haftarah for this Shabbat would be 1 Kings 18:46-19:21, however, because Parashat Pinchas comes after the 17th of Tammuz this year, we read Jeremiah 1:1-2:3, the beginning of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The 17th of Tammuz was marked by a fast in remembrance of the siege of the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (First Temple) and the Romans (Second Temple) before the city fell and the Temple was twice destroyed. The 17th of Tammuz begins three weeks of mourning and somber reflection that ends on Tisha b’Av, which this year falls on July 22nd. It is on Tisha b’Av that we remember the actual destruction of both Temples as well as numerous other atrocities that have befallen the Jewish people throughout the centuries.

The haftarah records Jeremiah’s calling and commissioning, as well as the beginning of HaShem’s discipline upon Israel. It is noteworthy that Jeremiah, like Moshe centuries earlier, tried to convince HaShem that he does not know how to speak, “Alas, ADONAI Elohim! Look, I don’t know how to speak!” (Jeremiah 1:6). This argument did not work for Moshe, neither did it work for Jeremiah.

The Besorah this week covers Luke’s account of Yeshua’s last meal with His disciples (Luke 22:7-20). Whether this was an actual Passover Seder or just the Teacher’s final meal with His disciples upon finishing their course of instruction, or a pre-Passover meal looking forward to His death as the Passover Lamb, has been discussed, debated, and argued over for centuries. The bottom line is that as Israel was standing before the Jordan and preparing to enter into the Promised Land to begin a new adventure in and with ADONAI, the disciples were standing on the edge of all they had come to know about the Kingdom of God and were preparing to enter it through the blood of the Lamb. Like Israel of old, the disciples discovered that their journey was just beginning, and ours continues.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-daughters-of-zelophehad-power-and-uniqueness (Accessed July 5, 2018).

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