Parsha Pinchas: The Torah Goes Out on a Limb

One of the scariest things to do is to step out on a limb.


Because you never know if it will break and lead to your falling and hurting yourself.

Yet, sometimes this is precisely what you need to do.


Because it is the right thing to do.

This week’s parsha (Torah portion) is called Pinchas. He is the grandson of Aharon the late high priest and brother to Moshe (Moses).

Our parsha is named after Pinchas because he epitomizes this kind of risk-taker, in a parsha that is all about doing the right thing.

Pinchas is so honored because he is willing to do the right thing in front of an entire nation, including its leaders, even when they won’t act. He does what he thinks is right, knowing that if he is wrong, he will suffer the death penalty. He does not hide or hedge his bets. He takes bold action. And for this he is rewarded.

Let’s see how this plays out inside our parsha.

At the end of last week’s parsha, Pinchas stops a plague by skewering a leader of one of the tribes, who publicly took a Midyan woman into his tent.

This week starts by giving us more detail of this event and its aftermath. We are told that Pinchas skewered a prince from the tribe of Shimon and the daughter of a national leader of Midyan as they lay together in his tent.

Can you imagine how hard it must have been for him to grab a spear and go into the tent of such an important man when not even Moshe, the supreme leader of the Children of Yisrael, the man who stood up to Pharaoh, was willing to do such a thing?

Imagine being the only member of a family who never went to medical school. Your own father is a foremost brain specialist. His colleague, another world-class brain specialist, announces, during a live press conference, that the President is brain dead and cannot live without life support because his brain will not tell his lungs to breath and his heart to pump. Your father and the rest of the family say nothing.

Suppose, deep in your heart, you know this is not true, that the President can live and does not need life support. Are you willing, in front of live TV cameras, and reporters, to stand up, go to the President’s bed, and pull the plug on the life support?

This is the equivalent of what Pinchas does.

His uncle is the leader of the people, and he does not move to prevent Zimri, a leader of the tribe of Shimon from taking Cozbi, into his tent. Pinchas grabs a spear and enters the tent and kills them.

Some commentators of the Torah say that the children of Yisrael were ready to give him the death penalty for this act.

Talk about going out on a limb.

Instead of receiving capital punishment, the Torah informs us that haShem (god) rewards Pinchas by giving him a Covenant of Shalom (peace), and making him a cohen (priest). The Torah also tells us that his act stops a plague that killed 24,000 people.

Let’s see another example within our parsha of people taking a big risk and going out on a limb for what is right.

After informing us how Pinchas is rewarded for his heroic act, we read of a new census. This census will be the basis of how to divide the land up.

After Moshe relays haShems’s words to the people regarding how the land will be inherited, 5 sisters step forward to challenge haShems words.

To put this in perspective, suppose you were one of 5 Native Americans sitting in front of the Supreme Court of the United States as it publically rules that the Native Americans will not be given their sacred land. Would you be willing to stand up and challenge that decision?

This is basically what these five sisters did.

And they won.

HaShem agreed with them and changed the rules of inheritance.

It would be like the Supreme Court in the example above, stopping and talking amongst themselves for a few minutes, and then turning back and telling the public that they were wrong and the Native Americans will have their sacred land returned to them.

My last example of going out on a limb for what is right is found in the next section of the parsha. Hashem tells Moshe that it is time to go up a mountain and die.

When god says it is time to die, I would find it hard to argue with him.

So, what does Moshe do?

He argues with her. Moshe tells haShem he is not going anywhere until a suitable leader is found to replace him, and that person is installed as the new leader.

And haShem capitulates.

Moshe gives us an addition lesson: one is never too old to learn something new from other people. He learns from Pinchas and the five sisters how to go out on a limb for what is right.

For the sake of completeness, the parsha ends with a detailed listing of the additional sacrifices for the holy days haShem has told the people to celebrate.

I hope you will comment below and tell the rest of us how you think these sacrifices that occur during the holy days fit with this particular theme in the parsha.

I look forward to reading your ideas.

If you care to read what I wrote about this parsha last year, click here.

About the Author

Picture of Shmuel Shalom Cohen Shmuel Shalom Cohen spent 10 years studying Torah in Jerusalem. Six years ago, he started Conscious Torah to help Jews connect to their tradition in ways they didn’t think possible. Shmuel also started, and is the executive directory of Jewish Events Willamette-valley, a non-profit whose mission is to build Jewish community, pride, and learning. In his free time, Shmuel likes walks in nature, playing music, writing poetry, and time with good friends.

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