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Torah Sparks

June 29, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Num. 25:10-30:1; Hertz, p. 686; Etz Hayim, p. 920
Triennial Cycle I: Num. 25:10-26:51; Hertz, p. 686; Etz Hayim, p. 920
Haftarah: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3; Hertz, p. 710; Etz Hayim, p. 968

Torah Portion Summary

(25:10-19) Pinchas is rewarded for his quick action, killing an Israelite who was consorting with a Midianite woman and worshiping Baal. He and his descendants after him will be the High Priest. The Midianites are condemned as enemies of the Jewish people.

(26:1-51) The second census, prior to occupying the Promised Land. God tells Moses how the land will be distributed; the location of the tribe's territory will be determined by drawing lots, but the size will be according to the size of the tribe. The Levite clans are listed separately because they did not receive a portion of the land.

(27:1-11) The daughters of Zelophchad want to inherit his portion of the land, for he left no sons. God agrees that they may inherit.

(27:12-23) Joshua is appointed to succeed Moses as leader of the people after Moses' death.

(28:1-15) The daily sacrifices offered on behalf of the community; the additional (musaf) sacrifices offered on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh.

(28:16-30:1) The additional sacrifices offered on Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.

This last section provides the maftir readings for all the festivals, and passages from it are also included in the Musaf Amidah, which takes its name from these Musaf sacrifices.

Discussion Theme: Ancient and Modern Zealotry

The Lord spoke to Moshe saying, "Pinhas, son of Eleazar, son of Aharon the kohen, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his zeal for Me..." Say, therefore, "I grant him My pact of shalom (peace). It shall be a pact for all time, because he was zealous for his God..." (Numbers 25:12-14)

Is zealotry a good or a bad characteristic for a person to have? In a positive way, it is energizing, it is purposive - leading an individual to a powerful personal commitment to an idea or cause which might be beneficial to society. On the other hand, zeal can lead to a form of fanaticism which could prove to be extremely destructive.

Early rabbinic tradition was divided on whether the zealousness demonstrated by Pinhas was to be considered commendable or not. On the surface, it would seem that his behavior was indeed to be judged as being commendable since the Torah quotes God as saying, " I grant him My pact of shalom... because he was zealous for his God."

But it is interesting to note two anomalies which appear intentionally in the actual text of every written Torah scroll. Examine verse 11 closely and you will note that the Hebrew letter yod in Pinhas' name is written smaller than the rest of the letters in his name. And in verse 12 the word shalom (ouka) is written in the Torah with a broken vav. These two unusual occurrences juxtaposed so closely to each other just "begged" for some sort of homiletical explanation by our ancient Sages.

The interpretations put forward by them unilaterally convey a strong disdain of fanatical behavior. They maintained that the letter yod in Pinhas' name is written smaller than the other letters in order to show visually that there was a diminution of his Jewishness due to his fanaticism (Note: A Jew is called a "Yid" - from the yod in yehudi) Additionally, it was pointed out, that the yod in Pinhas' name is intentionally diminished in size because it is meant to convey the message that through his act of violence his identity with God (written with two Yod's) was diminished.

As for the word shalom, it is written in the Torah with a broken letter; that is to say, part of its vav is missing. This anomaly is to serve as a reminder that the experience and memory of Pinhas' act will forever diminish the "peace" that he was to merit. It would be an imperfect peace.

"Sparks" for Discussion:

We see then that though our Jewish Faith admires strong commitment to its traditional values and objectives, there is a certain reluctance about encouraging over-zealous behavior on the part of its adherents.

Support for this view, is readily seen in the chapters of Jewish history - particularly in the time of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. As the vast military might of the Roman Empire pressed around the walls of Jerusalem, there were many in the Jewish leadership of that time who counseled that the Jewish people should surrender so as to lessen the death and destruction that was inevitably about to come. However, history records that a strong, vociferous group of "Zealots" vehemently insisted on continuing the battle against the Romans and they prevailed. The death and destruction which followed the final brutal battles was so devastating that Judea never recovered. But then again, it might have happened even if they did surrender before the destruction.

And now to our time. The tragic events which have been occurring in Israel touches us all very deeply. We all know that Israel must defend itself. In so doing, there can be no limitations and we should not expect to tell Israel what it has to do.

In time though, the existence and expansion of settlements in the "territories" will become a major "sticking point" in any peace settlement. Some who live in these settlements will maintain that it is a God-given right for them to reclaim the "Promised Land" of Judea and Samaria. They will insist that even if there is a Palestinian state, it has no right to make it "Judenrein" - (empty of Jews). Other old timers, joined by young settlers, might express their sentiments by nostalgically singing the old song from Jabotinsky days, - "On The Two Banks of the Jordan".

We are cautioned against zealotry. But is this zealotry?

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