- More Details about Pinchas’ Act
- The Second Census
- The Daughters of Tzelofchad
- The Appointment of Yehoshua Bin Nun
- Daily, Shabbat, and Festival Korbanot
- Haftarah: ויד ה’ היתה אל אליהו
The main story of Pinchas actually takes place in the previous parsha, Balak, although the aftermath and certain details are addressed at the start of this parashah, which bears his name. Pinchas is a kohen and grandson of Aharon, as detailed in Shemot 6:25. Briefly, at the end of the eventful previous parsha, Bnei Yisrael engage in promiscuity with Moabite women and the idolatry of Baal Peor, inciting G-d’s anger, which Rashi reads as sending the plague that will soon be mentioned. Moshe is told to impale the leaders of these acts, and instructs the leaders of Bnei Yisrael (shoftei Yisrael – שֹׁפְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל)2 to kill those who have engaged in Baal Peor worship. Then one such offender comes by with a Midianite (not Moabite) woman, in plain sight of the assembly. Pinchas spears both of them through their stomachs, killing them with one blow. The plague that had been raging in the camp ceases, having felled 24,000 people.
More Details about Pinchas’ Act
It is at this juncture that Parashat Pinchas picks up, with G-d approving Pinchas’s action and granting to him a Brit Shalom (בְּרִית שָׁלוֹם – covenant of friendship) that is also a Brit Kehunat Olam (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם – covenant of eternal priesthood). We are then told further details of the incident: the name of the man who was killed, Zimri the son of Salu (זִמְרִי בֶּן סָלוּא), the Nasi of Shimon, and of the Midianite woman he was killed with, Kozbi the daughter of Tzur (כָּזְבִּי בַת צוּר), the tribal head of an ancestral house of Midian. After this, the command is given to show enmity to the Midianites, and the action returns to what happens after the end of the plague.
The Second Census
This juncture is of great significance, as Bnei Yisrael find themselves on the plains of Moab (arvot Moav), on the east side of the Yarden (Jordan) River opposite Yericho (Jericho): the wilderness years are coming to a close and they are beginning preparations to cross into the Land of Israel. Here, the second census of Sefer Bamidbar is held, accounting for all Israelites 20 years of age and older. The report is as follows:3
- 43,730 decedents of Reuven, Israel’s firstborn, through Enoch, head of the clan of Enochites; Pallu of the Palluites; Chetzron of the Chetzronites; and Karmi of the Kamites. A son of Pallu was Eliav, the father of Nemuel, Datan, and Avihu, the same Datan and Avihu who sided with Korach’s rebellion and were swallowed up by the earth along with Korach. However, Korach’s sons did not die (and there are several Tehillim attributed to his descendants).
- 22,200 descendants of Shimon: Nemuel, head of the clan of the Nemuelites;4 Zerach of the Zerachites; and Shaul of the Shaulites.
- 40,500 descendents of Gad: Tzefon of the Tzefonites; Chaggai of the Chaggaites; Shuni of the Shunites; Ozni of the Oznites; Eri of the Erites; Arod of the Arodites; and Areli of the Arelites.
- 76,500 descendants of Yehudah: Er and Onan, who died in the Land of Canaan; Shelah of the Shelanites; Peretz of the Peretzites; Zerach of the Zarchites; and the sons of Peretz, Chetzron of the Chetzronites and Chamul of the Chamulites.
- 64,300 descendants of Issakhar: Tola of the Tolaites; Puva of the Punites; Yashuv of the Yashuvites; and Shimron of the Shimronites.
- 60,500 descendants of Zevulun: Sered of the Seredites; Elon of the Elonites; and Yachleel, of the Yachleelites.
- The descendents of Yosef are subdivided into those of each of his sons Menashe and Efraim, as follows:
- 52,700 descendants of Menashe: Machir of the Machirites, and his son Gilad of the Giladites; and the sons of Gilad, Iezer of the Iezerites and Chelek of the Chelekites; Asriel of the Asrielites; Shekhem of the Shekhemites; Shemida of the Shemindaites; and Chefer of the Cheferites, whose son, Tzelofechad, had only daughters, whose names were Machlah, Noa, Chogla, Milka, and Tirtza.
- 32,500 descendants of Efraim: Shutelach of the Shutelachites; Becher of the Bachrites; Tachan of the Tachnites; and from Shutelach, Eran of the Eranites.
- 45,600 descendants of Binyamin: Bela of the Belaites; Ashbel of the Ashbelites; Achiram of the Achiramites; Shefufam of the Shefufamites; Chufam of the Chufamites; and from Bela, Ard of the Ardites and Naaman of the Naamanites.
- 64,400 decsendants of Dan: Shucham, of the Shuchamites.
- 53,400 descendants of Asher: Yimna of the Yimnites; Yishva of the Yishvites; Beri’ah of the Beriites; and from Beriah, Chever of the Cheverites and Malchiel of the Malchielites; as well as Asher’s daughter, Serach.
- 45,400 descendants of Naftali: Yachtzeel of the Yachtzeelites; Guni of the Gunites; Yetzer of the Yetzerites; and Shillem of the Shillemites.
This comes to 601,730, in comparison to the census taken in the first year in the wilderness, which totals to 603,550 (which is the same number as the accounting of those over twenty for the purpose of paying the half-shekel tax in Pekudei5. This census is related to the apportioning of the Land that is to come.
Next is a census of the Levites, who numbered 23,000 and are detailed as follows:
- Gershon of the Gershonites, Kehat of the Kehatites, Merari of the Merarites;
- There are the Livnites, Chevronites, Machlites, the Mushites, and the Korachites.
- Kehat was the father of Amram, and Amram’s wife was Yocheved, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt, where she had Aharon, Moshe, and Miriam.
- Aharon had Nadav, Avihu, Elazar, and Itamar, but Nadav and Avihu died back in Parashat Shemini in Sefer VaYikra, when they offered strange fire (esh zarah) before Hashem, as is recounted here.
It’s noted that among them were none of the men previously counted in the census in the wilderness,6 with the exception of the two faithful meraglim from Parashat Shelach, Kalev ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua Bin Nun.7
The Daughters of Tzelofchad
Following the census is an account of the well-known event of the daughters of Tzelofchad (צְלָפְחָד), who request consideration of the fact that their father has died without a male heir and petition to be given a portion of land to maintain his name. There names are given here again (they were previously included in the census account) and, interestingly, it’s noted that their father, Tzelofchad, died in the wilderness “by his own transgression” (be-cheto – בְחֶטְאוֹ) but not as part of the rebellion of Korach.
Moshe brings the case before Hashem, and received an affirmative response, as well as explicit instructions on inheritance in cases where there is no son or daughter to inherit.
The Appointment of Yehoshua Bin Nun
The text now reaches the poignant moment when Moshe is instructed to ascend Mount Avarim (הַר הָעֲבָרִים) to view the Land which he will not enter due to his transgression in the wilderness of Tzin, striking the rock for water, back in Parashat Chukat. Moshe asks that a leader be appointed for the community of Bnei Yisrael, and is told lay his hands upon Yehoshua Bin Nun, one of the faithful meraglim just singled out in the text. This laying on of hands is the first act of semicha, and is to occur publicly, with Moshe and Elazar the Kohen standing by. They do as instructed.8
Daily, Shabbat, and Festival Korbanot
Details of the daily, Shabbat, and festival offerings are then given. The holidays themselves have already been described, and in Vayikra korbanot have been instituted for them, but here the details are specified:
- The daily Tamid offering is of two yearling lambs, one offered in the morning (ba-boker) and one at twilight (bein ha-arbayim) along with libation (nesech), as well as a meal offering (Mincha) and a burnt offering (Olat Tamid).
- On Shabbat, there is a burnt offering (Olat Shabbat) in addition to the ‘Olat Tamid and its libation.
- On the occasion of a new moon (i.e., Rosh Chodesh), there is a burnt offering consisting of two bulls of the herd, one ram, and seven yearling lambs, along with a meal offering (Minchah) and libation for each bull, the ram, and the lambs. There is also a Chatat (sin) offering of a goat in addition to the ‘Olat Tamid and its (the Olah’s) libation.
- Korban Pesach is offered on the 14th of the first month (Nisan). On the 15th it is a festival (chag) when there is no work and no leavened bread shall be eaten for 7 days. On the 15th and for 7 days, there is a burnt offering of 2 bulls, 1 ram, and 7 yearling lambs, each along with a meal offering. Also, there is a Chatat (sin offering) of 1 goat. The 7th day is also a festival with not working (melechet avodah).
- On the holiday of the first fruits (yom ha-bikkurim), also called here “your Shavuot,” it is also a festival and again there is an ‘Olah of 2 bulls, 1 ram, and 7 yearling lambs, each with a meal offering and libations. There is also a sin offering of 1 goat.
- The first day of the 7th month (i.e., the 1st of Tishrei or Rosh Hashana) is a sacred occasion (mikra kodesh) which is observed with no working and as a day of blowing the horn (yom teruah). In addition to the Olat Tamid is added another burnt offering of 1 bull, 1 ram, and 7 yearling lambs is offered, each with its meal offerings and libation. There is also 1 goat as a Chatat, in addition to the burnt offerings of the new moon (Olat ha-Chodesh) and the regular burnt offering (Olat Tamid), each with their accompanying meal offerings and libations.
- On the 10th day of the same 7th month (i.e., Yom Kippur) is also a sacred occasion (mikra kodesh) when no work is done and you shall afflict yourself (ve-‘initem et nafshoteichem). A burnt offering is made of 1 bull, 1 ram, and 7 yearling lambs, each with a meal offering, plus a goat as a sin offering. These are in addition to the sin offering of expiation (Chatat ha-Kippurim) and the regular burnt offering (Olat Tamid) with their meal offerings and libations.
- On the 15th day of the same 7th month (i.e. Sukkot) it is a sacred occasion (mikra kodesh) with no work (melechet avodah) and you will celebrate a holiday (chag) for 7 days. The burnt offering for this day consists of 13 bulls, 2 rams, and 14 yearling lambs along with a meal offering with oil mixed into it. There is also one goat for a sin offering as well as the regular burnt offering with its meal offering and libation. On the 2nd day of the chag, there are 12 bulls, 2 rams, and 14 yearling lambs with their meal offerings, plus one goat sin offering and the regular burnt offering with its meal offering and libation (the sin offering and regular burnt offerings continue to be offered on each day of the holiday. The special offering for the 3rd day is 11 bulls, 2 rams, and 14 yearling lambs; for the 4th day, 10 bulls, 2 rams, and 14 yearling lambs; for the 5th day, 9 bulls, 2 rams, 14 yearling lambs; 6th day, 8 bulls, 2 rams, 14 yearling lambs; 7th day: 7 bulls, 2 rams, 14 yearling lambs.
- On the 8th day (after the 7-day holiday of Sukkot) is atzeret (i.e., Shemini Atzeret) and you shall do not work. The burnt offering for this day consists of 1 bull, 1 ram, and 7 yearling lambs, with meal offerings and libation, as well as 1 goat as a sin offering, all in addition to the regular burnt offering with its meal offering and libation.
These offerings at their specified times are in addition to votive offerings (nidrechem) and freewill offerings (nidvotechem), whether Olah, Mincha, or Shelamim.
Haftarah: ויד ה’ היתה אל אליהו
[Melachim Alef 18:46 – 19:21]
For the momentous events immediately proceeding this haftarah, see the haftarah summary in Ki Tisa. In brief, we are in the reign of King Achav (Ahab) of the Kingdom of Israel, who is married to the Baal-worshipping Izevel (Jezebel). There is a lengthy drought as a result of Achav’s wickedness, and after three years Eliyahu appears and calls for the the true prophets of HaShem to face off against the false prophets of Baal, which are being supported by Izevel. The prophets of Baal are shown to be false and are killed, and the drought ends. At this juncture, our haftarah picks up.
Eliyahu, under threat for his life at the hands of Izevel, flees into the wilderness. After his first night in the desert, an angel provides him with sustenance. On the next night, Eliyahu finds refuge in a cave, upon which Hashem speaks to him and commands him to stand on the mountain before Hashem. Three powerful natural occurrences happen: a strong wind, an earthquake, and a great fire. But Hashem is in none of them; there is just a still, small voice (kol demama daka – קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה).
Hashem then tells Eliyahu the arise and go to the wilderness of Damascus and anoint several kings in that region, while all the Baal worshippers in Yisrael will be wiped out. On his way, Eliyahu meets Elisha, who abandons his field which he is working, slaughters his oxen on the spot, and becomes Eliyahu’s attendant.
Image: Numeri XXV by the Dutch poet and engraver Jan Luyken (1649–1712). Woodcut made for the Pieter Mortier edition of Josephus, Alle de werken van Flavius Josephus, published in Amsterdam in 1722 and republished many times since. See here for more on the image.
- I.e., after the fast of 17 Tammuz; this is usually the case.
- There’s discussion in the commentaries on who these shoftim are; generally speaking, we can say they are, some kind of official representatives.
- This assumes that elef here means 1,000; there are other non-literal interpretive possibilities.
- Apparently a different Nemuel than the one named just above, who was a member of the clan of Pallu.
- The number is given in Shemot 38:26 and the half-shekel census is commanded in Shemot 30:12
- Bamidbar 26:64.
- BeMidbar 26:65
- This official form of semicha continued, according to tradition, in an unbroken chain until the last of the Amoraim of Eretz Yisrael.