Tidbits of Torah

It’s Obvious! Or, Is It…?headshot white 2015cropped

Shabbat Parashat Pinchas

July 15, 2017- 21 Tammuz 5777

Dear Friends,
How often are we sure that what seems to us to be obvious truth, will be automatically be seen as obvious truth to those around us? And, how often are we disappointed when those around us fail to see what we perceive to be obvious truth?

This week’s Torah portion reminds us that the world is more complex than we might think; that reasonable people can look at the same reality as see different truths reflected in that reality.

First, we read of Pinchas receiving God’s “covenant of peace” after having slayed two human beings who were engaging in public idolatrous rituals in front of Moses and in front of the entire people of Israel. Moses, our greatest teacher, did nothing. Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson, acted. Our Sages struggle with what Pinchas did. Did Pinchas act purely? Or did Pinchas act precipitously out of an abundance of zealotry? Our Sages, divided in their assessment of Pinchas’ actions, struggled with the meaning of Pinchas having been awarded God’s “covenant of peace” right after he slew the two offenders.

Then, we read about the census of the people of Israel in the desert. We may note that those who were “counted” were able-bodied men who were 20 years old and up. There were just over 600,000 counted. This is the number we are all taught was the number of Jews who stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and received the Torah…And then there was a census of the Levites who were not included in the main census. The Levites, we are told, numbered some 23,000 males (from the age of one month and up). But what of the women? And what of the other children? The women and the other children are not mentioned in the census, although elsewhere the Torah tells us that they were gathered, along with the men, to witness the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. So, there must have been at least one million Jewish souls at Mount Sinai…Yet, to this day, we say: There were 600,000 Jewish souls at Mount Sinai…Which version of reality are we accepting when we say that?

Finally, we read of the five daughters of Zelophechad who came to Moses demanding that they receive the share of the land that their deceased father would have gotten had he lived to enter the Land of Israel. Inheritance went to the sons, but Zelophechad had only daughters…Moses was stumped. He asked God to decide, and God affirmed the claim of the daughters of Zelophechad. Why didn’t Moses see the obvious? Why did he need to bring this question to God?

We live in a world that is complex. There is nothing better than Torah study to teach us to evaluate our world with an open mind, and with an eye toward the spiritual messages that may be gleaned from the richness and depth of our tradition. When we are tempted to say: “It’s Obvious,” we should think again, and ask ourselves: “Or, Is It…?” If we are truly in search of truth, a pause for an additional moment of reflection, will surely help us to focus more clearly on the complex reality in which we live. This is why our Torah is truly called: A Torah of Life!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror