Pinchas - Partners in Torah


Parsha Perspectives

  • Peace Prize Awarded For Violent Behavior

    הנני נתן לו את בריתי שלום

    “Behold I give him My covenant of peace.” (Bamidbar 25:12)

    After various unsuccessful attempts at cursing the Jewish nation, Balaam advised Balak to entice the Jews to engage in idolatry and immoral behavior in order to bring the wrath of G-d upon them.  The scheme worked, triggering a plague that killed 24,000 Jews.  In the melee, Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Simon, brazenly and publicly sinned with a Midianite woman.  As described at the end of last week’s Torah portion, Pinchas stood up and killed both Zimri and the Midianite woman, bringing the lethal plague to a halt.

    This week’s Torah portion begins by relating the reward G-d bestowed on Pinchas for his heroic act: a “covenant of peace”.  It seems strange that the “peace prize” should be offered to one who just carried out such a horrific act.  Sure, it was a surgical strike, and it stopped the brutal plague that was sweeping the Jewish camp.  But the “peace prize”?

    The story is told about a student of Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (known as the Chafetz Chaim) who came to him with a seemingly mundane question.  This young man was considering a banking position and wanted to know whether he should accept a seat at the window that cashed checks or at the one that accepted deposits.  The Chafetz Chaim strongly encouraged him to occupy the place that was cashing checks, reasoning that if he would be receiving money daily over decades, it would misshape his personality into a taker; but if he would be handing out money, he would be more inclined to become a giver.

    Sefer Hachinuch teaches that “a person is impacted by the action of what he does”.  The Path of the Just similarly says, “Outer movements awaken our internality”.  For this reason, Judaism strongly emphasizes “doing” and “performing,” even if one’s heart is not initially in it.  Through acts of caring and loving, we teach ourselves to care and to love.

    Pinchas had just carried out an act that in any other context would be considered cruel and criminal. Regardless of his noble intentions and the ultimate good that resulted from his deed, he might have retained a measure of cruelty within.  Therefore, G-d rewarded Pinchas with an added measure of protection.  He and his children would become kohanim (plural of kohen), the students of and heirs to Aaron’s legacy, which, as taught in Ethics of the Fathers, is to “pursue peace and love peace, love people, and bring them close to Torah”.  Through the covenant of peace, his violent act ironically turned him into a pursuer of peace, rather than into a pursuer of violence.

    Repetition of an act creates a difference in character.  Even when our hearts aren’t in it, performing positive actions can lead us to better, brighter places.


    יפקד… אלקי הרוחת לכל בשר איש על העדה… יצא לפניהם ואשר יבא לפניהם ואשר יוציאם ואשר יביאם ולא תהיה עדת ה’ כצאן אשר אין להם רעה “

    May G-d of the spirits of all flesh appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in; and let the assembly of G-d not be like sheep that have no shepherd” (Bamidbar 27: 16-17).

    What makes a true Jewish leader? This is Moses’ implied question—and answer—as he asks G-d to appoint a successor to lead the Jewish people into the land of Israel.

    Rashi explains that by referring to G-d as “G-d of the spirit of all flesh,” Moses was communicating his opinion of the key personality trait needed to lead the Jewish people.  Just as G-d has intimate knowledge of every individual’s strengths, weaknesses, and unique personality, so too, the leader of the Jewish people must also possess this trait as much as humanly possible.

    In appointing Joshua, G-d declared that he is a man “in whom there is spirit.”  Rashi points out that by using this term, G-d was acknowledging Moses’ contention that a Jewish leader must understand, accept and work with all of the intricate and varied personalities that make up the Jewish people, down to each and every individual.

    This raises a question: Why, of all the characteristics required of a leader, the most important quality is the ability to understand each person on such an intimate level?

    Indeed, in the world-at-large, those who study leadership cite passion, charisma, integrity, self-confidence, competence, and a host of other qualities as the mark of an effective leader.  World leaders are expected to speak, motivate, and give direction on a national scale.  Rarely, if ever, are they expected to “lower themselves” down to the level of each and every individual.

    But that is exactly the point.  The Jewish people are a collection of unique souls, united in our mission to perfect the world.  Our ability to fulfill this mission depends on each and every individual.

    This is why G-d took a census of the people now, in this week’s parsha, after 24,000 were lost in the plague (Bamidbar 26: 1-51).  Rashi notes that G-d’s counting of the Jewish people at this time is analogous to a caring shepherd who counts his flock after they have been attacked by wolves.

    Each individual Jew has a role to play in perfecting the world, and as such, our leaders must be able to communicate with each Jew on his or her unique level in order to bring out that potential.

    To a greater or lesser extent, we are all “Jewish leaders”. Whether we are parents, friends, teachers, or colleagues, the opportunity to bring out the potential in others shows itself in many ways as we go through our days.  Our success depends not so much on the amount of charisma or passion we display to the outside world, but rather on the caring, concern and efforts we put forth to truly understand the people in our lives.


    ונתתה מהודך עליו למען ישמעו כל עדת בני ישראל

    “And you (Moses) shall place some of your majesty upon him (Joshua), so that the entire assembly of the children of Israel will pay heed.” (Bamidbar 27:20)

    As Moses began to approach the end of his life, G-d commanded him to appoint his disciple Joshua to succeed him as the leader of the Jewish nation.  Although Joshua was a faithful student, he wasn’t on the same spiritual level as his teacher.

    The Talmud records that upon realizing this difference, the elders of the generation remarked, “Woe to us for this humiliation and shame.”  Why did they feel embarrassed only after noting this distinction, and why specifically did Joshua made them feel this way and not the even greater Moses?

    The Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838-1933), compares this to a case of a rich businessman who arrived one day in a small rural village, asking if anybody would be interested in becoming his partner in a new project.  The businessman offered to put up all of the necessary funds and expertise, but merely desired a hard worker to assist him with managing and running the business.

    Most of the residents were either content with their simple lifestyles or skeptical about the man’s promises of fame and fortune, and declined the offer.  One villager decided that he had nothing to lose and agreed to become the man’s partner.  A few years later, the pair returned to visit the village, arriving in an impressive carriage and dressed in a manner which clearly revealed the success of their venture.  At this sight, the villagers were overcome by remorse.

    They explained that they weren’t jealous of the entrepreneur as they felt that his education and resources gave him advantages that they could only dream of.  They were, however, quite shamed at the sight of the success which had met their former neighbor.  They remembered all too well that they were offered the same opportunity, but only he was wise enough to take advantage of it.  The recognition of the possibilities they had and their failure to actualize their potential generated powerful feelings of humiliation.

    The Jews in the wilderness similarly never measured themselves against the spiritual level achieved by Moses.  They viewed the pious family into which he was born and the elevated soul with which he was blessed as presenting him with certain opportunities for greatness that they could never fathom. Joshua, on the other hand, was neither the wisest nor the greatest of the generation.  Rashi explains (Bamidbar 27:16) that Joshua was chosen on the basis of his devoted service to Moses throughout the 40 years in the wilderness.  The thought of Joshua’s achievements made the Jews aware of their own potential which had not been maximized.  It was this awareness that they experienced upon the inauguration of Joshua as Moses’ successor.

    The lesson for us should be obvious.  Each of us is presented with opportunities for greatness that are not dependent on our natural talents or advantages.  Rather, they are dependent on hard work and sustained commitment.  Instead of focusing on why others may have it easier, we should seize every opportunity and develop our potential to its fullest.

Table Talk

For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table

Q: Even though the name Yissachar (יששכר) is spelled with two שs, the prevalent custom is to pronounce it as if it were written with only one. Why is this?

A: The Chida explains that Yissachar named one of his sons Yov (Bereishit 46:13), which was at that time – unbeknownst to Yissachar – the name of an idol.  Upon learning of this, Yov complained to his father, who appeased him by changing his name to (Bamidbar 26:24) ישוב.  However, in order to add a “ש” he was forced to give up one of his, which even though it is still part of his written name, is no longer pronounced!  In fact, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch from Zidichov was accustomed to read the name Yissachar with both שs up until Parshas Pinchas, in accord with the opinion that his name was changed only at that time! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)


Q: Rashi writes (Bamidbar 25:11) that after Pinchas killed Zimri, the Jewish people began to shame him by mentioning that his maternal grandfather (Jethro) had been an idolater. The Torah therefore specifically emphasizes his paternal descent from Aaron. Of what benefit was this to Pinchas, and in what way did it change the reality that one of his grandfathers had served as a priest for idol worship?

A: Rabbi Meir Shapiro explains that the value of a mitzvah is measured by the degree to which its performance runs counter to one’s natural inclinations and therefore represents a greater test of his devotion to G-d.  The Jews attempted to minimize the greatness of Pinchas’ act not by insinuating that he was a cold-blooded killer. Rather, they hinted that it had come easy to him because his grandfather cruelly killed animals as part of his idol-worship. The Torah therefore emphasizes that this act was performed with great personal difficulty and internal resistance. Pinchas’s natural instincts came not from his allegedly merciless maternal grandfather, but from his paternal grandfather Aaron, a man whose entire life was dedicated to the pursuit of peace. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)


Q: Rashi writes (Bamidbar 26:1) that just as Moses began his leadership of the Jewish nation by counting them after the Exodus from Egypt, so too he was commanded to count them at the end of his leadership as the time of his death approached. After the sin of the Golden Calf, the male Jews between ages 20 and 60 numbered 603, 550, while 39 years later they numbered only 601, 730. In what way is it considered a compliment to Moses that the total number of Jews actually decreased during the period of his leadership?

A: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains that there is no comparison between the generation of Jews included in the first census and that which comprised the second counting. The first census was taken of the generation who left Egypt, who were easily enticed to commit grave sins such as the sin of the golden calf and the sin of the spies. The counting in Parshat Pinchas, on the other hand, was of the generation which was to enter and settle the promised land of Israel.  Although their total numbers appear similar in quantity, there is a vast difference between them in terms of quality. Our Sages teach that normally, it takes a large group of people to produce a few especially pious individuals. It is quite praiseworthy that Moses was able to take an entire generation and, in a mere 40 years, use his leadership to transform it from one with raw potential into one full of righteous people while still maintaining the total population. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)


Rashi writes (Bamidbar 27:1) that the Torah specifically emphasizes that the ancestry of the daughters of Tzelafchad(Zelophehad) extended back to Joseph to teach that their love of the land of Israel had its origins in Joseph’s love of Israel. Wouldn’t it have been even more praiseworthy if their love for the land originated from within themselves and not from a predisposition that they inherited from their ancestor? (Darash Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein)


The daughters of Tzelafchad  begged Moses, “Why should our father’s name be missed out from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father’s brothers!” (Bamidbar, 27:4)

  1. There were four times that Moses could not rule and asked G-d to rule directly instead. In this instance with the daughters of Tzelafchad (and one other, relating to Pesach Sheini — the Second Passover for those who were not able to offer the Passover sacrifice), Moses immediately asked G-d to clarify the situation. In the other two instances — that of the blasphemer (who pronounced the ineffable name of G-d) and the gatherer of wood on Shabbat, Moses incarcerated the sinners and waited until the following day to inquire of G-d. Why might there have been such a difference in Moses’s response?
  2. When listing the daughters of Tzelafchad, the Torah traces their ancestry straight back to Joesph. This was in order to teach that their love for the land of Israel had its origins in Joseph’s love of Israel (Rashi, Bamidbar, 27:1). It would seem to be even more praiseworthy if their love for the land originated from within themselves, not from a predisposition that they inherited from their ancestor. Why, then, might the Torah phrase it this way?


When Moses asked G-d to appoint an appropriate successor (Bamidbar 27:16), he referred to G-d as the “G-d of the spirits.” As explained by Rashi, Moses was referring to G-d’s knowledge of each individual’s unique strengths and weaknesses as he appealed for a leader who can cope with (or tolerate) each person’s uniqueness. G-d responded with, “Take to yourself Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit, and place your hand upon him” (Bamidbar 27:18). In describing the value personified by someone in whom there is this “spirit,” Rashi explains that G-d was granting Moses’ request for a leader “who can go k’neged, (along with) each individual’s unique spirit.”

1) In his appeal to G-d, Moses seemed to refer to G-d’s knowledge of each person’s unique ways; yet, when asking for a leader, he only asked for someone who can cope with or tolerate each person’s uniqueness. Wouldn’t it be better to have a leader who actually understands and appreciates each person’s uniqueness?

2) The word k’neged can be translated (as we have) as “going (or getting) along with,” or as “in opposition to” each person. As Rashi could have used the term ‘im’ to connote “going along with,” why would he use the term ‘kneged,’ with its dual and seemingly contradictory meanings.

3) How is Joshua, who goes k’neged the people, the answer to Moses’ request for someone who can cope with or tolerate them?


At the end of Parshat Balak, the people of Israel fell into idol worship and immorality at the hands of the daughters of Moav and Midian.  Events went so far that a prince of the Tribe of Simeon, Zimri ben Salu, committed a public act of immorality with a Midianite princess, Cozbi, the daughter of Tzur. A plague then killed 24,000 Jews. At great risk to his own life and safety, Pinchas killed the rebellious pair and stopped the plague.

Instead of praising Pinchas, the Jewish people accused him of the wanton murder of a Jewish prince and denigrated his lineage as the grandson of an idol worshipper. (Jethr, Pinchas’ maternal grandfather, was an idol worshipper before converting to Judaism.) In response, G-d conferred a “covenant of peace” on Pinchas and granted him Priestly status as a descendant of Aaron, the High Priest.

1) Why should Pinchas’ lineage have any relevance to the Jewish people when it comes to judging the correctness of his actions?

2) Of all of the possible rewards G-d could have given to Pinchas, why is a covenant of peace the appropriate response to killing of Zimri and Cozbi?


Rashi writes (Bamidbar 27:23) that although G-d commanded Moses to lean only one hand upon Joshua, Moses generously did so with both of his hands in order to fill up Joshua with his wisdom. How was Moses permitted to deviate from that which G-d explicitly commanded him, and why did he do so? (Derech Sicha by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky)


After G-d decreed that Moses wouldn’t be allowed to enter the land of Israel, how was it a consolation to Moses that G-d commanded him to ascend a mountain from which he could see the land? Wasn’t this reminding Moses of what he couldn’t have, like rubbing salt in his wound?


Q: This week’s parsha contains the Torah’s laws of inheritance. A young man suddenly became ill and found himself on his death-bed. He realized that he hadn’t yet prepared a will regarding the division of his estate, and although he didn’t yet have any children, his wife was pregnant at the time. Uncertain as to the baby’s gender, he instructed that if his wife gives birth to a boy, the son should inherit 2/3 of his possessions, with the remaining 1/3 going to his wife. In the event that she would give birth to a girl, the daughter should inherit 1/3 of the estate, with the remaining possessions belonging to his widow. After he passed away, to the surprise of all, his wife gave birth to twins – one boy and one girl. How should his possessions be divided?

A: Unsure as to how to adapt the deceased’s instructions to the strange turn of events, they approached the great Rabbi of Brisk, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, for guidance. He explained that the solution is simple. The man made it clear that he wished any son he may have to receive two times the inheritance of his wife, while he also desired that his widow should inherit double the portion of any daughter she may bear. In light of this understanding, the estate should be divided into seven equal portions, with the son receiving four of them, the wife two, and the daughter one, just as the man himself would have wanted it! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)


Parsha Tidbits

Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study


  • The Right Intentions

     “Pinchas, the son of Elazar, son of Aaron the Kohen, has turned back My anger from Bnei Yisroel by zealously avenging My vengeance among them, so that I did not destroy the Children of Israel in My vengeance.” Bamidbar 25:11

    By Zealously Avenging My Vengeance – By avenging My vengeance – by his rage where I should have been enraged. – Rashi

    Vigilantism is generally a scary proposition, as it has the potential to lead to mayhem and even injustice.  Yet, the Torah insists that in this instance, Pinchas got it exactly right.  His secret?  While performing his act of vigilantism, he experienced no base emotions of his own.  All he felt was the rage of G-d.  His purity of motive, and lack of personal animosity toward the offender, are what distinguished his act from that of insincere vigilantes throughout the ages.  He was repulsed by the wrong that was being perpetrated and refused to accept it, yet bore no enmity toward Kosbi and Zimri as individuals.

    “Therefore tell him, that I give him My covenant of peace.” Bamidbar 25:12

    My covenant of peace – Peace is so precious and so beloved before the Almighty that it was this that He granted Pinchas as a reward.– Sifri Zuta

    As great as vigilantism is, and although it certainly has its place in Judaism as this incident with Pinchas proved, an even greater approach to serving G-d is with peace.  Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839) explains that vigilantism and peace are two opposite extremes and the ideal person will know how to strike a perfect balance and respond with each at the appropriate time.  Pinchas demonstrated that he had mastered vigilantism.  Now G-d granted him the gift of peace, so he could round out his arsenal and become a complete servant of G-d.


     “It shall be for him and his descendants after him a covenant of eternal priesthood because he was zealous for his G-d and brought atonement for the Children of Israel.” Bamidbar 25:14

    A covenant of eternal priesthood – Although the priesthood had already been given to Aaron’s descendants, it was given solely to Aaron and his sons who were anointed with him, and to their generations who would be born after their anointment.  Pinchas, however, who was born before and was not anointed, was not included in the priesthood until this point. – Rashi

    For his G-d – For the sake of his G-d… – Rashi

    Chomat Esh explains the words, “his G-d” as follows: Sinners rarely accept responsibility for their misdeeds because even when they recognize that they acted improperly, they reason that since others do it as well, they’re not to blame.  It’s for this reason that the Ten Commandments were spoken in the singular, to emphasize that the instructions were to be seen as personal for every single Jew, and not as communal obligations for which the individual bore no responsibility.  While Zimri carried out his vile act, none of those standing by did anything to help him.  This included such illustrious personalities as Moses, Aaron, and many other great men.  Pinchas could have easily claimed that he too was not expected to do anything if others wouldn’t make a move to interfere.  He, however, recognized that “his” G-d; i.e. his personal obligation toward G-d, required that he act to stop the offensive behavior and that’s what motivated him to get involved when no one else would.


     “And they approached – the daughters of Tzelofchad, son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manassah, of the families of Manassah the son of Joseph…” Bamidbar 26:1

    Of the families Of Manassah the son Of Joseph – Why is this said?  Has it not already said “the son of Manassah” [who was obviously the son of Joseph]?  This teaches us that Joseph cherished the land, as it is said: “You must carry up my bones , etc.,” and his daughters cherished the land, as it is said: “Give us possession”! – Rashi

    The Torah is unusually sparing in its words. Yet it did not hesitate to write four extra words in order to teach us an important lesson in how to convey our values to our children.  The love that the daughters of Tzelofchad felt toward the land of Israel, was not something cultivated in a summer trip to Israel sponsored by a communal organization.  Rather, it was a deeply ingrained value that had been cultivated by their parents, who in turn, learned it from their parents, tracing back all the way to their ancestor Joseph, who lived many generations earlier.  Authentic Jewish values are not a product of modern times.  They stem from our ancestors who evinced their commitment to them with every fiber of their being, and made certain to pass them along to their children.  These values are among our greatest assets, and we would be remiss if we neglected to responsibly transmit them to our children.


     “Reuben, was Israel’s firstborn; the descendants of Reuben are: the Chanochi family from Chanoch, the Palui family from Palu.” Bamidbar 26:5

    The Chanochi Family – Why did the Torah refer to them as the Chanochi family, and not the family of Chanoch?  Because the nations disparaged them, saying, ‘what, they trace their lineage to their tribes?  They think that the Egyptians had no control over their mothers?  If they ruled over their bodies, then certainly they ruled over their wives!’  Therefore, the Holy One, Blessed is He, attached His Name to them, the “Hey” on one side, and the “Yud” on the other, as if to say, ‘I bear witness concerning them, that they are the sons of their fathers.’ – Rashi

    Why was it necessary for two letters of Hashem’s name to be appended to their names when either one of the letters would have sufficed?  The letters “Yud” and “Hey” are not just two random letters of the Divine name.  They are the specific letters that He affixed to the male and female components of a marriage; the Hey as part of the word “Ishah” [woman], and the “Yud” as part of “Ish” [man].  Since these letters symbolize the ideal male/female relationship, they are the ultimate witnesses to fidelity and commitment in a marriage. – Gur Arye

    The name of G-d demands such reverence that it may not be uttered in vain.  Yet, G-d saw fit to affix it to the names of the tribes in order to bear witness that they had maintained sexual purity under the most dire of circumstances.  Clearly, this is of such great import, that this was not considered a trivial use of His name.  We live in far more optimal circumstances and there is no excuse for us to lower this lofty standard set by our ancestors under the most trying of circumstances


     “And the sons of Eliav: Nemuel and Dathan and Abiram, the same Dathan and Abiram who were summoned to the assembly, who contended against Moses and Aaron among the assembly of Korach, when they challenged G-d.” Bamidbar 26:9

    When they challenged G-d – “Rabbi Chisdah said, ‘One who challenges his teacher’s authority is considered as if he has challenged G-d.’” – Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 110a

    Who contended against Moses and Aaron, among the assembly of Korach, who challenged G-d – Dathan and Abiram had zero interest in offering up the ketoret [incense-offering] and were driven solely by a hatred for Moses and Aaron.  The 250 men, on the other hand, were righteous individuals who bore no ill will toward Moses and Aaron.  They simply wanted an opportunity to serve G-d through the ketoret offering.  They only joined forces with Dathan and Abiram as a matter of convenience, not because they shared their ideals.  Their war was not against Moses, but against G-d. – Netziv

    Ohr HaChaim takes Netziv’s idea one step further.  He points out that there’s no reason for the Torah to mention Dathan and Abiram altogether, since neither of them inherited the Land, nor did they leave over any descendants.  Thus, they should have omitted from the discussion entirely.  The reason they were added however, was to inform us that they were the leaders and primary instigators of the entire Korach plot.  He suggests that perhaps even Korach fell victim to their machinations and was driven to act as he did because they emboldened him.  The Torah wishes to lay the blame where it truly belongs: at the feet of two vile men whose sole purpose was to create discord among the Jewish people and disregard for their venerated leaders.


     “These are the descendants of Benjamin by their families, and they numbered forty-five thousand and six hundred.  These are the descendants of Dan by their families: The Shuchamite family from Shucham, these are Dan’s families.  All the Shuchamite families numbered sixty-four thousand and four hundred.” Bamidbar 26:41-43

    Benjamin by their families – The sons of Benjamin [were]: Bela, Becher, Ashbeil, Geiroh, Naamon, Eichi, Rosh, Muppim, Chuppim and Ard. – Bereishit 46:21

    Dan’s Families – The sons of Dan [were] Chushim. – Bereishit 46:23

    “Chushim the son of Dan was deaf” – Talmud, Tractate Sotah 13a

    The Tribe of Benjamin began with ten sons, whereas that of Dan had only one—a deaf child named Chushim.  Nevertheless, Dan’s descendants eventually numbered 64,400, whereas Benjamin’s numbered only 45,600.  Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as The Chafetz Chaim, points out that this demonstrates that ultimately, results are not in our hands.  If the Almighty wishes one to have many descendants, he can accomplish that with only one disabled child just as effectively, or even more so, than one with ten robust and healthy children.  If He desires to make one wealthy, He can do so regardless of how many assets the individual has to his name. We are truly pawns in the “hands” of the Almighty and subject only to His will.


     “Among those [counted now], there was no one [previously] counted by Moses and Aaron the Priest, who had taken a census of the Israelites in the Sinai Desert.  This was because G-d had decreed to them that they would all die in the desert, and that not a single man would survive, with the exception of Caleb son of Yefuneh, and Joshua son of Nun.” Bamidbar 26:64,65

    Caleb…Joshua – The Torah mentions Caleb before Joshua, because he had placed himself in greater danger by speaking up in defense of Moses when the spies returned and tried to spread their terrible slander.  For this act of self-sacrifice, he deserved to be mentioned first.  Moses, who usually referred to Joshua before Caleb, did so because he related to them on the basis of their wisdom, an area in which Joshua was superior to Caleb. – Rabbeinu Bachya

    The verse points out that the decree was “that not a single man would survive,” which meant that the men would not enter the Land for the sin of refusing the gift of the Land.  The women, however, were not included in this decree, because their attitude was quite the opposite.  They desperately desired the Land and refused to take part in the incident of the spies.  It is for this reason that the story of the daughters of Tzelofchod, who brazenly requested their fathers’ portion in the Land, follows these verses, because it demonstrates so amply the positive attitude of the women toward the Land.

  • 120 VISION

     “G-d said to Moses, ‘Go up to this mountain of Avarim and see the Land that I have given to the Children of Israel. You shall see it and you shall be gathered unto your people…’” Bamidbar 27:12,13

    You shall see it – The Hebrew word for “and you shall see it” is “V’Ra’ita,” and it can be spelled with, or without, the letter Hey at the end.  Throughout the Torah, the word only appears without a hey except in this instance where it features a hey at the end. The meaning of this is the subject of much discussion.

    1. The additional letter indicates a complete vision and comes to symbolize that Moses’ perspective of the Land included not only those areas immediately visible to the naked eye, but even hills, valleys, pits, caves, and more.  Miraculously, he was allowed and enabled to see every aspect of the Land. –Baal HaTurim
    2. Medrash adds that Moses also saw the entire Land up close, rather than from a distance.  Even the parts of the Land that were farthest away appeared to be near. – Yalkut Shimoni Remez 776
    3. Whenever a hey is added to a word which is functional without it too, this indicates that the action described by the word must be done joyfully.  In this case, seeing the Land meant that death would follow immediately afterwards.  Consequently, there was reason to suspect that Moses would be reticent about ascending the mountain to see it.  Therefore the Torah added a hey to indicate that Moses had to do so with joy instead of sadness.

    Indeed, Moses went to his death with a sense of joy and satisfaction, for as Rashi writes, “He desired a passing similar to that of his brother Aaron,” and he merited it.  The words of this verse too, “you shall be gathered unto your people,” indicate that Moses left this world in a manner reserved only for the most righteous— and devoid of pain or suffering.  His level of spiritually was so great that his stay on earth was more of a tourist than that of a permanent dweller, and therefore leaving it was a painless process.


     “Let Hashem, G-d of the spirits, appoint a man over the community. Who will go forth before them…so that the community of Ad-noy shall not be like sheep that have no shepherd…take for yourself Joshua…” Bamidbar 27:16-17

    Appoint A Man – The two verses that make up Moses’s request that G-d appoint a leader contain a total of twenty-eight words in the Hebrew text.  This is the reason that when Joshua was appointed, he led the Jewish people for a total of twenty-eight years. – Baal HaTurim

    Who will go forth before them – Not like the leaders of the other nations who send their soldiers to battle and remain in the rear of the action so as not to endanger themselves.  A Jewish leader must be prepared to lead his men in battle and to face any risk he would ask of others. – Sifri (Midrashic commentary)

    Who will go forth before them – He will have to anticipate their needs and not wait to be told what they need.  The instant Moses heard about the sin of the Golden Calf, he immediately recognized the danger we faced and prayed on our behalf.  Similarly, the leader will need to foresee the needs of the people and take action before the problems fester. – Chiddushei HaRim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg Alter, 1799-1866)

    Chiddushei HaRim added that people tend to believe that as the generations deteriorate, the need for superior leadership deteriorates along with them and they satisfy themselves with mediocre leaders.  In reality, the opposite is true.  Just as a patient who is severely ill needs an expert physician, the farther away the generation is from serving G-d, the greater the personality needed to bring it back. Now more than ever we must strive to produce the greatest leaders possible.


     “G-d said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua son of Nun, a man of spirit, and lay your hands upon him.’” Bamidbar 27:18

    Take Joshua – “Take” him with words of persuasion – “Fortunate are you to merit leading the children of the Omnipresent.” – Rashi

    A man of spirit, and lay your hands upon him – He is a man of spirit in the sense that he is very different from all the others.  He possesses a spirit of wisdom, insight, and strength that few others possess.  On top of that, you will add even greater spirit by laying your hands upon him and inspiring him to even greater heights.  This, however, is only possible because of the heights he has already reached.  Thus, he is an ideal candidate for greater infusions of wisdom and knowledge. – Malbim

    And lay your hands upon him – Provide a meturgamen [public announcer] for him in order that he might preach during your lifetime, so that it should not be said of him that he was unable to lift his head in Moses’ day. – Rashi

    By insisting that Joshua be given the opportunity to preach even prior to Moses’ death, G-d ensured that he would receive the respect due him once he would step into the position full-time.  Rabbi Akiva Eiger once visited the city of Nikolsburg where Rabbi Mordechai Benet served as the rabbi.  Rabbi Benet invited Rabbi Eiger to deliver a sermon in the main synagogue on Shabbat.  A large crowd gathered to hear their illustrious visitor, and during the lecture, Rabbi Benet interrupted with a question which seemed to destroy Rabbi Eiger’s entire argument.  After a short pause, Rabbi Akiva Eiger descended from the pulpit, seemingly vanquished.  Fearful that he had shown his eminent visitor the ultimate disrespect, Rabbi Benet came running over to Rabbi Eiger to beg his forgiveness. With a smile, Rabbi Eiger allowed that he really knew the answer to the question. “But why didn’t you respond publicly then?” asked Rabbi Benet. “I did not want to belittle you in the eyes of your congregation,” replied Rabbi Eiger. “After all, you are their leader; they look up to you.  I am only a passerby; my reputation is inconsequential.”


     “Say to them: ‘This is the fire-offering that you shall offer to G-d; male lambs in their first year, without blemish, two each day, as a continual (daily) burnt-offering.” Bamidbar 28:3

    Male lambs in their first year – “Ben Azai said, ‘They cleansed the Jewish people of their sins and rendered them as pure as a one-year-old baby.’” – Pesikta Rabbasi, Parshah 16

    A continual burnt-offering – The daily offering continually advocated in heaven on behalf of the Jewish people. – Rabbeinu Bachya

    Unblemished, two each day – These words in Hebrew are “Tmimim, Shnayim Layom” and their first letters are Tav, Shin, Lamed.  The numerical equivalent of those three letters is 730.  This is particularly noteworthy, because an average year in the Jewish calendar features 365 days, and since the Tamid offering was brought twice daily, a total of 730 offerings were offered each year. – Baal HaTurim, Rabbeinu Bachya

    The Talmud [Tractate Ketubos 10b] writes that the Altar “sustained” the universe.  Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Edeles, known as “Maharsha,” and other commentators explain that in the merit of the daily offerings [among others] the universe was given sustenance by the Almighty, so pleased was He by the devotion of the Jewish people who brought it daily.  Netzi”v [HeEmek Davar] explains that this is the reason that Temple offerings were referred to as“Avodah” – work, in the Torah because the term is usually used in reference to earning money for bread and sustenance.  The offerings provided that in abundance, and thus deserved this title even more than the other commandments in the Torah.

Hey, I Never Knew That


G-d promised Pinchas that he would have a covenant of peace, and that “his children after him will have the covenant of the priesthood forever” (Bamidbar 25:13).  Rabbi Yosef Karo explains that G-d was promising Pinchas that his descendants would be righteous, and that despite all the exiles and persecutions that would occur in future, his family line would survive throughout history.  The promise also included a guarantee that his descendants would be the High Priests in the times of the Messiah (as they were during the First Temple era) and would serve in the Third Temple (Magid Meisharim,Pinchas).


“And the sons of Korach did not die” (Bamidbar 26:11).  Although Korach, Dathan and Abiram and all those who joined in the uprising against Moses died, the sons of Korach remained alive.  According to Rashi even though they originally participated in the uprising, since they felt remorse for what they did, their lives were saved.  The Ibn Ezra points out that Samuel the prophet was in fact a descendant of the children of Korach, and according to Rabbi Isaac Luriah,  Samuel’s righteousness rectified the sin of his ancestor Korach.  Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz writes that this rectification is alluded to in Psalm 92 in which the last letters of the phrase “the righteous will flower like a palm tree” spell out Korach (Shnei Luchot Habrit, Hagahot Labamidbar, Korach)

Word of the Week


  • כבש

    Among the animals brought as offerings is the כבש — keves — sheep, the plural of which is כבשים —kevasim.  Most of the time the word is written as כבש, but there are a number of times where the spelling is כשב or כשבים.  Rabbi David Kimchi only notes that the spelling varies, without explanation. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Etymological Dictionary) understands כבש  as related to launder, whiten, etc., and hence implies a white sheep.  He explains that כשב  indicates that there is something unusual or deceptive about this animal, and that the word relates phonetically to כזב — kazev — deceive.  Rabbi Meir Simchah (Meshech Chochmah commentary, Vayikra 5) maintains that since the word for suppress is כבש כבש therefore refers to a lamb less than one year old, who has not given birth, and hence its potential is still suppressed.  When the Torah uses the spelling כשב it refers to a lamb that is either one or two years old, and that has already given birth.


    “And you shall give of הודךhodcha on him [Joshua].” Targum Onkelos, Targum Yonatan, and Rashi all translate this as “your radiance,” meaning that Moses would give of the radiance of his face to Joshua.  Although, as Rashi points out (based on Bava Batra 75a), it would not be equal to Moses, as it states, “Of your radiance, but not all of it.”  The Ibn Ezra understands hodcha as “your respect” and, similarly the Sforno translates it as “the glory of your monarchy,” in other words, “your authority.”  The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabba 15:25) understands it as a bestowal of wisdom and prophecy upon Joshua.

Dear Rabbi

The Torah generally assumes that a leadership role among the Jewish people will be automatically inherited by the son, if he is worthy (Mishneh TorahLaws of Kings 1:7).  Does the rule of inheritance also apply to a rabbinic position?  This is a matter of major dispute among halachic authorities; however, Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Chatam Sofer, Responsa Orach Chaim 12) cites a proof from the Torah portion this week that the rabbinate is not subject to inheritance.  Moses prayed to G-d to appoint a leader for the community to take over after his death.  G-d responded by appointing Joshua (Bamidbar 27:15-20).  The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabba 21:17) says that Moses was hoping that his son would take his place, since he was a scholar and a G-d fearing individual.  However, G-d told him that since Joshua had served Moses more, and had spent so much time with him, he would be chosen as the leader rather than Moses’s son.  The Medrash thus indicates that the role of a spiritual leader is not an automatic inheritance (Minchat AsherPinchas, 59).


“Through a lottery shall the land be divided…” (Bamidbar 26:55)  A community that was voting on a candidate for Rabbi was evenly divided between two candidates.  The community asked Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef if they could decide based on a lottery, as our Torah portion states the land should be divided.  He answered that the lottery mentioned in this week’s Torah portion was through the Urim Vetumim, the breastplate of the High Priest, which was a form of prophecy and hence cannot serve as evidence of approval of any other type of lottery.  In addition, the lottery in this week’s portion was merely matching something that was already owned by the parties in the lottery to the appropriate party, but was not deciding on creating something new as in the case of the Rabbinate.  Rather, Rabbi Yosef ruled, the community must put the matter back to the vote until there is a clear majority (Responsa Yabia Omer 6, Chosen Mishpat 4).

Parsha at a Glance

This week’s parsha begins in the immediate aftermath of the plague that swept through the Jewish people at the end of last week’s parsha, Balak.  G-d sent the plague after a significant portion of the nation had allowed themselves to become seduced into idolatry and immorality by the daughters of Moav and Midian.

In a stunning act of rebellion, one of the leaders of the Tribe of Simon, Zimri ben Salu, publicly disgraced himself in this way with a princess of Midian, Cozbi daughter of Zur.  Some 24,000 people died in the plague before Pinchas, in defense of G-d’s honor, killed Zimri and Cozbi while they were engaged in their immoral activity.

Pinchas’ act of self-sacrifice ended the plague.  However, there were critics who questioned his right to take the life of a tribal prince and derided his lineage. (Pinchas was a grandson of Jethro, who, before he converted, was an idol worshipper. He was also a grandson of Aaron, the High Priest, but he himself had been not granted status as a Priest, as this was conferred only on Aaron and his sons.)

In response, G-d told Moses to inform the people that Pinchas’ actions had saved untold thousands of lives and removed G-d’s anger from the people.  He thus merited an eternal covenant of peace with G-d and was granted Priestly status for himself and his descendants.

G-d next commanded Moses to strike back at the Midianites in retaliation for their evil, unprovoked plot against the Jewish people. (The recounting of the actual battle takes place in next week’s parsha.)

Following the losses in the plague, and in preparation for the coming conquest and apportionment of the Land of Canaan (Israel), a national census was conducted.  The total number of Jewish men aged twenty and over on the eve of the conquest stood at 601,730.

The understanding that the Land would be apportioned according to this census presented a halachic (Jewish legal) problem for the daughters of Tzelophchod.  Their father died in the desert without leaving any sons, prompting them to request a portion of the Land for themselves.  G-d affirmed their request, clarifying that when no male descendants exist, the daughters receive the inheritance.  If there are no daughters, the inheritance goes to the man’s brothers, followed by his father’s brothers, and finally the closest male relative.

G-d instructed Moses to ascend the mountain and see the Land of Israel.  Moses was again told, however, that he would not be allowed to enter the Land, because he had struck the rock instead of speaking to it as commanded (see Bamidbar 20:11).

Recognizing the beginning of a new phase of the Jewish people, Moses asked G-d to appoint a successor who would be able to lead them into the Land.  G-d chose Joshua, Moses’ loyal student, and requested that Moses make a clear demonstration of the succession before the entire nation.

The Torah then lists offerings to be brought daily, as well as the additional (Mussaf) offerings for Shabbat, the New Month, Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succot and Shemini Atzeret.