We left the last parashah with Pinchas driving a spear through a prince of the tribe of Simeon, who had flaunted his relationship with a Midianite woman right in front of Moses and the entire congregation, which was (at that time) being punished by God for having associated themselves with the Midianite women, being seduced into worshipping their gods.
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Now God rewards Pinchas for his zealousness for God by promising him that he, and his descendants, would always serve as the Cohen haGadol, the High Priest.
After this, God tells Moses that they are to go to war against Midian, and has Moses take a census to count how many people have survived the plague. And at the end of this census it was discovered that, except for Joshua and Caleb, every single one of the men who refused to enter the land when they first came to Canaan has died.
There arose a question regarding inheritance for a man who has no sons to inherit, but does have daughters, as was the case with the daughters of Zelophehad. God tells Moses that the daughters will inherit, but they must marry within their tribe so that the tribe doesn’t lose possession of the land.
Now God tells Moses to climb to the top of Mount Pisgah, also called Nebo, to view the land that the people will cross over into, but that Moses cannot enter. He has Moses commission Joshua to take his place in front of the leaders and people.
The parashah ends with God reviewing the rules for sacrifices and the Holy Days the people are to celebrate when they enter the land.
This parashah leaves me with questions: we know that Pinchas killed Zimri, but does that mean that Pinchas was then subject to being killed by Zimri’s closest relative, who is the avenger of blood?
Also, since God rewarded Pinchas, does that means God accepts murder as a means of showing one’s dedication to him? Isn’t that somewhat like human sacrifice?
And another question: I think it is pretty clear that Pinchas acted not just from zealousness, but really from anger, and since God rewarded him, does that mean acting from anger can be acceptable to God?
If so, then why was Moses punished? Moses acted from anger that the people were constantly kvetching about no water and no food, and at the rock of Meribah, when Moses struck the rock twice, he was also zealous for God in that his anger was against the people for their lack of faith.
But he was punished- severely- for his doing something in anger for God.
What’s up with that?
I have no answer for these questions.
The Torah is clear that an avenger of blood is acceptable, otherwise why would God have told Moses to separate 6 cities as Cities of Refuge for those who kill someone accidentally? So why wasn’t the avenger of blood for Zimri allowed to take his rightful vengeance against Pinchas? That wasn’t even an accidental killing- it was a crime of passion!
Pinchas kills two people in anger and is rewarded; Moses strikes a rock twice in anger and is punished. I don’t get it!
Maybe the answer is…there is no answer.
Maybe the idea here is that things aren’t always black and white, right and wrong, on or off?
Maybe we can’t always understand why God does what he does- well, that’s not really a maybe, that’s a rootin-tootin’ sure thing!
We can’t understand why God does what he does- sometimes he tells us, and sometimes he doesn’t. And when he doesn’t, we are expected to accept that and move on.
It is OK to question God, but it isn’t realistic to expect he will answer every question.
As Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 29:29, the secret things of the Lord belong to him, and that which is revealed belongs to us and our descendants forever.
So, today’s message is simple: when you don’t understand why God does something, ask him to explain it to you. If he wants you to know, he will tell you, and if he doesn’t answer you, then accept that the answer is a “You don’t need to know” thing, and move on.
Remember: trusting faithfulness is more than going to Shabbat services and reading the Bible. It is accepting that God doesn’t have to explain anything to us, but we do have to trust him and do as he wants us to do.
To paraphrase a well-known saying:
Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and… receive blessings now and live in God’s presence, joyful and at peace forever after.
Amen to that!
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That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!