Pinchas by David Hartley Mark

This parsha/Torah reading presents more evidence of Moses’s continuing decline as a leader, poor fellow, due to years of overwork, as well as old age. Here is the aftershock of a plague which God sent to punish the Israelite men for their succumbing to the temptations of Moabite and Midianite temptresses. Sadly, Moses is unable to restrain their excesses, and he no longer has either Aaron or Miriam’s counsel to assist him. It is left to a young hothead, the kohen/priest Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson, who seizes a lance and skewers Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, and a Midianite woman, Cozbi, while they are sinning in the presence of the portable mishkan/shrine of God. One wonders how Moses, in his prime, would have dealt with this challenge to God’s authority—would he have spoken to the sinful pair in blood-and-thunder tones, or would God have split the earth open, and, Korach-like, plummeted the fornicators down to Gehenna?

For the feminists among us, here is the episode of the Daughters of Zelophechad, whose father died without leaving what used to be genteely called “male issue.” They petition Moses for the right to inherit their father’s property. This legal question never having been raised before in the history of Judaism, Moses consults with God, who grants the women their wish. (Of course, their property ownership rights will pass from them to their husbands when they marry, but that’s a question for a later era to settle.) It is curious to read this as having been “progressive” in an era when even our Orthodox co-religionists (at least the Moderdox, or, as Rabbi Avi Weiss would term them, the “Open Orthodox,”) now enjoy the ministrations of Orthodox Maharotote (women rabbis by any other name)—three fresh-faced young women, eager and earnest, who have been busily serving their own, Orthodox, branch of Klal Yisrael, the People of Israel, while their more haredi (ultra-Orthodox)—dare I call them colleagues?—look askance, full of forboding—for their own positions, or the shocks to the system of organized Orthodoxy? Only time will tell. It does seem odd that only we non-Orthodox clergy and laity are happy and anticipating of their success, while their own denomination’s rabbis are so full of trepidation!

Finally, we learn why this parsha is so crucial to every Jewish holiday: it contains the paragraphs listing the holiday korbanote/sacrifices which were formerly offered during Temple days, and which are read from the second Torah scroll on almost every major Jewish holiday, from the High Holies through Shavuote. Why so? According to the prophet Hosea, “the words of our lips take the place of the bullocks and rams” which were sacrificed on these holidays. In other words, when the holidays arrive, Chant a Portion, and Save a Cow: it’s a vegan’s dream.

David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance

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