Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: Pinchas

Search the Jewish Magazine Site: Google
The Weekly Torah Portion
This portion is:


Search our Archives:

» Home
» History
» Holidays
» Humor
» Places
» Thought
» Opinion & Society
» Writings
» Customs
» Misc.


The Guiding Light

By Michael Chessen

     The Torah reading of "Pinchas" is one of individual initiative. We have perhaps been left at somewhat of a loss in fathoming the brazen act of Pinchas at the end of the portion of "Balak": the killing of a Jewish prince and a Midianite woman who were publicly committing an immoral act. Although his action appears to have halted a terrible plague, we still cannot know that ends, however vital, justify such extreme and apparently self-initiated means.

     Especially against the backdrop of all of the preceding mis-deeds in the book of Numbers, we have understandably become just a little wary of "unscripted" initiative. Accordingly, the opening verses of Pinchas quite strongly grab our attention by virtue of the fact that God here explicitly bestows a holy stamp of approval on an individual’s actions. Though God has certainly sent many signs through Moses and Aaron, these have primarily been in order to convey messages pertaining to God and the Torah, rather than express a specific message about the Jewish leaders themselves.

     Although Pinchas merits God’s "covenant of peace" (Numbers 25:10), while his zeal in the service of God is certainly worthy of emulation, in the course of regular daily life, we cannot realistically expect to receive his kind of "divine assurance" for any given action. Rather, the Ethics of the Fathers instructs us to "make for yourself a rabbi" (as a teacher of advisor) and "acquire a friend" (in order to benefit from his or her more detached perspective).

     In our Torah reading, the highly articulate and well-reasoned petition on behalf of the daughters of Tzlefchad follows the actions of Pinchas as perhaps a more exemplary course of personal initiative. In having worked their way through the hierarchical advisory/judicial structure that Yitro had advised and Moses instituted, they necessarily benefited from much "rabbinical" guidance. And through they all had a common interest in the outcome of their petition, their being five rather than one enabled them to exchange "friendly" counsel between themselves.

     In the context of these initiatives, Moses would seem poised to take an initiative of his own, namely, appealing the decree preventing him from entering the Land of Israel. Accordingly, God "pre-empts" Moses by immediately following His response to the petition of the daughters of Tzlefchad with the instructions that Moses ascend Mt. Nevo in order to view the good land from afar before following his brother Aaron in taking leave from this world. While accepting God’s final decree, Moses nevertheless demonstrates initiative, not on his own behalf, but on behalf of the future of the entire Jewish people. Moses’ selfless plea that the people not become as "a flock without a shepherd" directly leads to the appointment of his close student and protégé, Joshua, as his successor. This helps ensure that even if Moses the man does not enter the land, the spirit of his guidance will.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

The Jewish Magazine is the place for Israel and Jewish interest articles
Send us a Comment
Parsha Index
Return to Parsha listings
Jewish Magazine Main Page
Jewish Magazine Index Page

Please let us know if you see something unsavory on the Google Ads and we will have them removed. Email us with the offensive URL (