D’Var Torah Pinchas by Guy Farb

Shabbat Shalom:

The parashah of the week is called Pinchas named after a Priest whose zealousness for G-d was demonstrated at the end of last week’s parashah and who was praised in the initial few sentences of this week’s.

The text then concentrates on:

1. a further census of the Israelites;

2. an explanation of the inheritance of each of the Tribes of the land G-d is about to give us;

3. the resolution of a practical question of inheritance of the two daughters of Zelophehad whose male relatives had predeceased them and

4. the appointment of Joshua ben Nun as Moshe’s successor.

The appointment of Joshua raises the question of why certain other potential candidates where not chosen. The three likely candidates at this juncture where Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, Gershom, Moses’ first born and Eliezer, Moses’ younger son.

Pinchas, being a Priest would have been disqualified from being made King of Israel but may not have disqualified him from being Moshe’s successor. It is possible to argue, however, that his most conspicuous personality trait, that of being “zealous” may have made him a poor choice to follow Moshe whose work required both tact and compassion.

Gershom and Eliezer were Moshe’s sons and it might have been expected that Moshe’s abilities and qualities might have been inherited from him. There is, however, a recurring resistance in the Bible and especially in Torah against the ideas of primogeniture (inheritance of the first born) and dynastic inheritance.

In his D’var Torah on Parashat Pinchas of 2019 entitled The Crown All Can Wear, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that there are two common words in Hebrew for “inheritance”, namely, nachala and yerusha. Rabbi Sacks finds that the kind of inheritance referred to as Nachala is the kind that passes down to a person without that person having to do anything to acquire it. This word is related to the Hebrew word nachal meaning “river”. Yerusha is derived from the root verb yarash meaning “to take possession” and therefore refers to the kind of inheritance that, while giving one legitimate title, requires positive action to possess.

Rabbi Sacks argues that it was this latter kind of inheritance that was recognized by the choice of Joshua over Gershom and Eliezer. Joshua was Moshe’s disciple and ‘right hand man”. He extended and dedicated himself to the work of Moshe himself and was thus the appropriate person to inherit his authority. Rabbi Sacks might well have gone on to say (although he did not) that it was again yerusha that was recognized by the successful suit of the daughters of Zelophehad. It might indeed have been their steady pursuit of their inheritance that tipped the balance in their favour when Moshe was considering their case. One of my mother’s favourite sayings is “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”

But what of our Inheritance? The teaching Rabbi Sacks urges is that the great inheritance of Israel, Torah, is the kind of inheritance described by yerusha. It does not flow down to us like a river but rather must be actively pursued if it is to be possessed.

Shabbat Shalom

Guy