by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970
The parasha for this Shabbat is entitled Pinchas, covers Numbers 25-29, and is named after a man some might suggest “took the law into his own hands”. In the previous chapters, on which David did an outstanding job last Shabbat teaching, we found the king of Moab attempting to hire Balaam to curse Israel– something God was not prepared to allow, since He had already blessed Israel. In fact, over four hundred years earlier, in a covenant made with Abraham God promised to bless those who bless our people and to curse those who curse us. You might say Balak and Balaam formed a “non-prophet” venture doomed to failure. But Balaam had another idea. We find out later in the Scriptures1 that he had suggested to Balak that the people of Israel would bring God’s curse on themselves if they could somehow be enticed to worship other gods – an act of disloyalty and betrayal. So here in Numbers 25 we read that some beautiful Moabite women were sent to allure the Israeli men to join them in a local sacrifice to the Ba’al at Peor. Canaanite religious ceremonies were highly sexual in nature, and many of our men joined them in the ritual, infuriating the God who had so recently delivered us from four centuries of Egyptian bondage. God commanded Moses to slay the leaders of the rebellion, and sent a plague among the people. 24,000 men in all died that day. It was a lamentable, grievous day in Israel. Yet, as though it meant nothing, one brazen, hard-hearted, shameless Israeli man brought a Midianite woman into his tent right in front of the whole assembly who had gathered at the Tent of Meeting to mourn. That was the last straw! Aaron’s grandson, Pinchas (Phineas) picked up a spear, went into that tent and pierced them both through (presumably while they were engaged in the illicit activity). By our laws today, Pinchas would have been imprisoned for murder, having killed the two people, despite their moral filth. What was God’s response? He praised Pinchas for having been as zealous for God’s honor as was God Himself. Pinchas turned away God’s wrath and saved our people. In return, God established a perpetual priesthood for Pinchas’ family line. In fact, he is remembered forever with honor in Psalm 106:28-31. Chapter 26 tells of the taking of a second census of Israel, and the number is almost the same: 601,730 men of eligible fighting age. In chapter 27, the daughters of Zelophehad press their case for land allotment, since no sons were born to their father; God answers that their case is just – setting a precedent that in the absence of sons, daughters receive inheritance, and in the absence of no children, brothers receive inheritance. At that time God commands Moses to publicly commission Joshua as his successor, and Moses complies. Chapters 28 and 29 include a reiteration and exhortation to observe the festivals, and there is special emphasis placed on the Feast of Tabernacles. But let me conclude with a few thoughts about the tragedy at Peor, and Pinchas’ actions.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Pinchas פִּנְחָס. Other transliterations: Phinehas or Phineas
1. See Revelation 2:14-15