In the Face of Violence, a Covenant of Peace

In the Face of Violence, a Covenant of Peace

Jul 2, 2021 By Marc Gary | Commentary | Pinehas

Karen Armstrong, the scholar of religion and popular author of such works as The History of God, relates that wherever she travels, she is often confronted by someone—a taxi driver, an Oxford academic, an American psychiatrist—who confidently expresses the view that “religion has caused more violence and wars than anything else.” This is quite a remarkable statement given that in the last century alone, tens of millions of people have been killed in two world wars, the communist purges in the Soviet Union and its satellites, and the Cambodian killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, none of which were caused by religious motivations.

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The Courage to Not Know

The Courage to Not Know

Jul 10, 2020 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Pinehas

If there is a moment of heroism in Parashat Pinehas, it is when the daughters of Zelophahad stand before Moses. Living in the patriarchal world of biblical Israel, they arrive at a defining juncture. Their father, Zelophahad, dies, leaving no sons to inherit or perpetuate his name. While the daughters could have simply accepted the reality of patriarchal inheritance, they bravely choose another path. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah approach Moshe explaining, “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no sons! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (Num. 27:4). The reader of Torah cannot help but embrace this gesture with a sense of awe. What trepidation—and gumption—must have been involved in the decision to bring their case before the leader of the fledgling nation of Israel!

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In the Face of Violence, a Covenant of Peace

In the Face of Violence, a Covenant of Peace

Jul 26, 2019 By Marc Gary | Commentary | Pinehas

Karen Armstrong, the scholar of religion and popular author of such works as The History of God, relates that wherever she travels, she is often confronted by someone—a taxi driver, an Oxford academic, an American psychiatrist—who confidently expresses the view that “religion has caused more violence and wars than anything else.” This is quite a remarkable statement given that in the last century alone, tens of millions of people have been killed in two world wars, the communist purges in the Soviet Union and its satellites, and the Cambodian killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, none of which were caused by religious motivations.

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Charismatic Saint or Reckless Vigilante? Pinehas and the Covenant of Peace

Charismatic Saint or Reckless Vigilante? Pinehas and the Covenant of Peace

Jul 6, 2018 By Hillel Ben Sasson | Commentary | Pinehas

Along with Simeon and Levi, who raged against Shekhem and his people in response to defilement of their sister Dina’s dignity, the figure of Pinehas has become synonymous with decisive and unforgiving zealotry. In the face of growing sexual promiscuity within the Israelite desert camp, and against the backdrop of a crippled and confused leadership headed by Moses, Pinehas took action.

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First and second haftarot of rebuke

First and second haftarot of rebuke

Jul 6, 2018 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Masei | Mattot | Pinehas | Tishah Be'av

Chapters 1 and 2 of Jeremiah constitute the first two haftarot of “calamity” or rebuke. In them, the prophet anticipates disorienting but necessary societal upheaval; he is called “to uproot and pull down, destroy and overthrow,” and also “to build and to plant.” 

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Fearless Women

Fearless Women

Jul 14, 2017 By Meredith Katz | Commentary | Pinehas

Many narratives coalesce in Parashat Pinehas, and it is challenging to review without connection to the current political and social climate. The daughters of Zelophehad make a proposal to inherit their father’s portion, as part of a land division framework aiming toward equality: “to the more thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to the fewer thou shalt give the less inheritance.” The daughters raise their claim with Moses et al. as women, demanding their right to inherit in the absence of any sons, a significant step for women in ancient times that is then added to the canon.

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I Will Get Back Up Again

I Will Get Back Up Again

Jul 14, 2017 By Stephanie Ruskay | Commentary | Pinehas

“What does your dad do at Google?”

One of our JustCity Leadership Institute pre-college program students explained that her mother works at Google in a significant leadership position. Yet each time she wears a Google T-shirt, people ask her what her father does there.

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Law as Response to Its Context

Law as Response to Its Context

Jul 29, 2016 By Jonathan Milgram | Commentary | Pinehas

What social and economic criteria demand a reevaluation—or perhaps even redefinition—of divine law? How does Jewish legal development through the ages illustrate the interrelationship between God and the Jewish people that results in new and relevant Jewish laws? The analysis of one element in parashat Pinehasinheritance by daughters—teaches that, at times, the Jewish people’s response to the divine call may be determined by the social and economic contexts, resulting in a reframing of the divine message for a new age.

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A New Rabbi in 17th-Century Italy

A New Rabbi in 17th-Century Italy

Jul 29, 2016 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary | Pinehas

Reminded that he will not be permitted to lead the people into the Land of Israel, Moses asks God to appoint a successor for him. God instructs Moses:

Single out Joshua son of Nun, an inspired man, and lay your hand upon him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before the whole community, and commission him in their sight. Invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey. (Num. 27:18–20)

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Making Space for Life

Making Space for Life

Jul 10, 2015 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Pinehas

It’s not for nothing, this reputation God has for consuming anger. The Torah itself makes the case. Our parashah opens with yet another instance of God hovering at the brink. God is prepared to wipe us out in a rage over our incessant violations of the inviolable.

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The Seasons of God

The Seasons of God

Jul 10, 2015 By Nancy Abramson | Commentary | Pinehas

Parashat Pinehas is one of several instances in the Torah in which the holidays and their sacrifices are described. In Leviticus, we read the verse, “These are the fixed seasons of God, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions;” (23:4) a prelude to the descriptions of festival practices with particular emphasis on the offerings made by the kohanim (priests). Here in Pinehas, the Torah lays out the religious calendar as a catalogue of these public sacrifices (Num. 28:1–29:39), which forms the maftir Torah reading for each festival.

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The Importance of Constructive Action

The Importance of Constructive Action

Jul 11, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Pinehas

Recall the troubling and cryptic episode at the conclusion of last week’s parashah: the Israelites encamp at Shittim; they are seduced by Moabite women and attach themselves to an idolatrous cult of Ba‘al Pe‘or.

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Doing Violence for God

Doing Violence for God

Jul 11, 2014 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Pinehas

What are we to think about Pinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the high priest, after whom this week’s Torah portion is named?

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Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Jun 25, 2013 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Pinehas

When we go to help someone—in times of mourning, illness, or just a basic potluck pitch-in—do we give them what we need to give, or what they need of us? How are we to know, if we are not explicitly told, what will please, comfort, or help someone else the most? And the religious corollary to this line of thinking: do our answers change when it comes to bringing an offering to please or comfort not our friends, but God?

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Zealotry, Good and Bad

Zealotry, Good and Bad

Jun 25, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Pinehas

At the end of Parashat Balak, we are introduced to the extreme character of Pinehas.

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Religious Moderation in the Face of Extremism

Religious Moderation in the Face of Extremism

Jul 14, 2012 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Pinehas

The brutal sentence Pinhas was carrying out was one levied by God at the beginning of chapter 25, but we cannot begin to comprehend the emotional and spiritual trauma that resulted in executing, or even witnessing, this aggressive meting out of God’s justice.

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Choosing Love and Life

Choosing Love and Life

Jul 14, 2012 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Pinehas | Tishah Be'av

Every summer I find striking the juxtaposition of Parashat Pinhas with its place in our calendar. This portion either soon follows (as it does this year) or immediately precedes 17 Tammuz. We always read the complete description of the biblical holidays’ offerings with the calamities listed above also in mind. This litany of misfortunes does not only include those related to the end of Temple-based worship; it also locates within the Torah the origin of each of these infamous dates observed as fast days. Those interpretations teach a deeper lesson about Jewish unity when considered with this week’s Torah portion and current events.

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Justice and Mercy

Justice and Mercy

Jul 16, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Pinehas

The feminist in me adores this midrash: a tannaitic (first- or second-century CE) work acknowledging misogyny and extolling the women in this week’s parashah who appeal to a gender-blind God for mercy. With ever-present news stories of the gender-based gap in wages and job retention, the plea of the daughters of Zelophehad is still relevant.

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Singing about Sacrifice

Singing about Sacrifice

Apr 16, 2011 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Pinehas

When I attended junior congregation as a child, one of my favorite Shabbat morning songs began with the words uv’yom haShabbat. We kids used to belt it out. I remember the same thing happening when I spent summers as a camper at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. But why sing today about slaughtering and offering up lambs on the altar in the Temple? An answer can be found in this week’s Parashat Pinhas, where these words, or rather these verses, originate.

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Who Counts?

Who Counts?

Jul 3, 2010 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Pinehas

We all filled out census forms this year, as stipulated by the United States constitution. The closing date was March 31. My twin sons, who were born on March 30, 1980, were included in that year’s census as one-day-old babies. I sometimes joke that they burst out of the womb seven weeks early just so that they could be counted. The Bible, however, does not count children.

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