Parashat Pinhas

Friday, July 6, 2018 /23 Tammuz, 5778
Parashat Pinhas Numbers 25:10-30:1

Dear Friends,

How nice to be studying and teaching Torah with you – the community of our devoted Temple Beth El! It is my privilege to join you for this period of transition, but more: for an opportunity to derive new meaning from our storied Tradition and for our community.

And, it begins with this week’s Torah portion.

This week’s Torah portion… includes a powerful and radical vignette. An Israelite named Zelophechad died, and left no male heirs, but five daughters (rings an Anatevka-styled bell!). However, according to prevailing law, the daughters were precluded from inheriting their father’s estate, as only male descendants were so allowed. Feeling the indignity of this injustice, the daughters came forward and brought their claim before Moses, and before the Eternal, to whom the daughters proclaimed, “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (Num. 27:4)

Moses heard their supplication, and brought their petition before God, who adjudicated the plea on behalf of the daughters: “Transfer their father’s share to them.”

On the surface, it appears that the radical element in the story is that the daughters prevailed in their appeal, thus overturning a key, sexist tenet of ancient legal grounding. Yet, I suggest that even more radical and significant is a matter far more basic and easily overlooked: simply, the law changed because the situation of the people demanded it, irrespective of gender. Change occurred because circumstances warranted it. Period. The law was not etched in stone.

This is a key message with which to build our transitional period here at Temple Beth El. Change is a matter of circumstance, Torah teaches this week. As much as we may wish to forfend against change, to put our fingers in the dike, the Book of Numbers could not hold it back, and nor can we. Our task is to embrace it and to find in our new circumstance opportunities for new meanings from our storied tradition and for our community.

Each of us is, in some way, an heir to the daughters of Zelophechad. Let’s bring our thoughts before one another, and before the Eternal.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Doug Kohn