God bestows on Pinchas an eternal covenant of peace as a reward for his zeal on God’s behalf. The Israelite who was killed, Zimri, was the son of a chieftain from the tribe of Shimon. The woman was Cozbi, the daughter of a chieftain of the Midianites. God commands Moses and the Israelites to attack the Midianites because of their role in luring the Israelites into idolatrous worship and apostasy.
The Parashah continues with the rise of a new generation and preparation for the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. This new generation, unlike the generation of the Exodus, is characterized by fidelity to God and Torah.
At the end of the plague, God mandates another census of men who are over twenty years of age. Unlike the earlier census, this one is by tribal clans, and the total number is over 600,000 males of fighting age. Once the number of people is established, God discusses allocating the Promised Land by lot and by the size of each tribe.
The census confirms that the generation of the Exodus has died, fulfilling God’s dictate that those rebellious Jews would die in the wilderness and their children would reach the land of Israel. The daughters of Zelophehad raise an issue with the justice of the inheritance system. Why, they ask, should their father’s land allotment go outside the family just because he had no sons? Moses consults with God, who affirms the wisdom of the daughters and grants them the right to inherit. God tells Moses to ascend to the heights of Mount Avarim to view the land the Israelites will enter, after which he, too, shall die. Still concerned for the wellbeing of the people, Moses asks God to appoint someone to lead in his stead, so that the Lord’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd. God appoints Joshua, and Moses signifies the choice in a public ceremony involving Eleazar, the Cohen Gadol (High Priest).
Once the apportionment of the land and the succession of leadership is resolved, God establishes the calendar of public sacrifices, the festivals and holy days of ancient Israel and contemporary Judaism. These occasions of public festivity mark the daily offering, Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.
Questions for discussion
1- What does a “covenant of peace” means in your opinion? Justifies Pinhas’ actions or signs that they were incorrect but forgiven this time?
2- The daughters of Zelophehad are an example of progressive legislation in the Torah for its age, which progressive legislation do we need today in Judaism?
3- Why do the instructions about the festivals come immediately after the land is divided and the new leadership established? Are these subjects related?
Rabbi Mijael Even-David