Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Guest Dvar on Parashat Pinchas - A Perspective for Today

Dvar Torah on Parshat Pinchas 

by Warner Ferratier

Delivered At Congregation Moreshet Yisrael, Jerusalem, Israel 

on Monday Morning, July 7, 2014

Boker Tov!

In this week's Parasha, we learn about the aftermath of Pinchas's actions,  an additional census, the apportionment of the promised land among the tribes, and the ritual sacrifices for the various holidays. In the section about apportioning land, we first meet the five daughters of Zelophechad. Zelophechad died without male heirs, and the daughters request that their father's name not be allowed to die, and that they be allowed to inherit. Moses takes their case before God, who acknowledges the justice of their claim. 

What interests me is that when the daughters explain their case, they say that their father died, not because of participation in the rebellion of Korach, but rather for his own sin. The Torah remains silent about the nature of that sin. Rashi, however, comes to assuage our curiosity. He cites two possibilities: according to Rabbi Akiba, Zelophechad was the one executed for gathering wood on the Sabbath, and according to Rabbi Shimon, he was one of the people who dared to ascend the mountain after it had already been forbidden to the Children of Israel.

While the two possibilities are interesting, the truth is that we don't really know what his sin was. We are to understand that his death was an act of Divine justice in one way or another. What seems most significant to me is that despite his status as a sinner deserving of death, there doesn't seem to be much question that his descendants are due an inheritance. Indeed, the only issue seems to be whether daughters can inherit, not whether there should be an inheritance at all. The children of a sinner, whether daughters or sons, are still part of the community of Israel.

I think there is an important lesson in this for us. Too often, we tend hold the sins of one person against those around them. We get angry at one person, and not only give the silent treatment to him or her, but also to that person's friends and family. When a person from one population commits an act, we tend to globalize the guilt to all members of that group. We, of all people, should know better. For centuries, Jews have been accused of deicide, blood libel, and theft. When it comes down to it, most acts of revenge end up being carried out against someone besides the perpetrator.

In our Torah portion, God does not punish the children of Zelophechad for Zelophechad's sin. When we remember Zelophechad, we remember him because of his daughters. We should all be so lucky as to be remembered for the merits of our children, rather than the sins we have committed. 

May we take this example so that when justice is exacted, it is exacted only against the guilty. May we be blessed with the compassion to recognize the merits of the innocent, rather than punishing them for the deeds of others.

Ken Yihi Ratzon 

Warner Ferratier is a student at the Conservative Yeshiva.
He will be starting rabbinical school this September. 

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