Remember all those times I noted here that we would be reading a portion from an additional scroll having to do with sacrifices? They’re all here! Instructions for the daily sacrifices and those for the Sabbath, Rosh Hodesh, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, each day of Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret start at 28:1 and go all the way to the end. Also in this portion is a new census, showing a 0.3% decrease in potential soldiers overall, with big differences among the tribes from a decrease of 63% (Shimon) to an increase of 64% (Menasheh). The land they are soon to enter is divided up, and the five daughters of Zelophehad, whose father died son-less, petition Moses that they should nevertheless get their father’s portion. Moses wisely kicks their petition up to a higher Authority, and it is granted. And Moses, told that he will soon die (“be gathered to his kin”) like Aaron, formally presents Joshua to the people as his successor.
I would like to spend some time on the beginning of this portion and the rarely read haftarah that accompanies it this year. Parashat Pinchas begins with the epilogue to the zealotry of Pinchas (25:1-9), in which he peremptorily killed the couple who were fornicating in front of the Tent of Meeting, now identified as Zimri, a leader of Shimon, and Cozbi, a Midianite princess. The Lord had already told Moses, who told the elders, to kill the ringleaders of those who had forsaken the Lord for Ba’al-Peor, and there was a plague (surprise) in progress. After Pinchas acted, the plague, which had killed 24,000, stopped, surely a sign of divine approval. And he and his descendants are rewarded with the hereditary priesthood. Why? Didn’t he just overturn the whole, carefully constructed framework of rule of law? The rabbis were uncomfortable with zealotry and vigilantism in general, and so cast Pinchas as a singular individual possessed by a pure zeal for the Lord, which allowed him to act and thereby prevent the Lord’s destruction of the Israelites (all but 24,000). The Lord also grants Pinchas a “pact of peace”; however, in the scroll, the word for peace, shalom, is typically written here with a broken vav
signaling that “peace that results from violence, even required violence, is defective.” The awarding of the hereditary priesthood can be interpreted with similar ambivalence. Rabbi Brad Hirschfeld wrote a few years ago, “Pinchas is blessed with Divine peace. Clearly something which neither he nor any religious zealot possess…Pinchas and his descendants are guaranteed that they will be priests — people who serve in the ideal and disconnected world of the Tabernacle and later, the Temple….But anyone who needs to spend their whole life at … the Temple has a problem.,, Not distinguishing between the real and the ideal, not accepting that life is about maintaining a healthy tension between the two. That is the problem of all zealots….Pinchas was given the inner peace needed to resist his own religious zealotry and a safe place to go when that same zeal needed to be expressed.”
The haftarah assigned to Pinchas is I Kings 18:46-19:21, the one in which a discouraged Elijah, alone, in a cave at Horeb (Sinai), learns that the Lord is not to be found in an earthquake, wind, or fire, but in a still, small voice, which asks him what the heck he’s doing there when there’s work to be done and people to do it. The Lord gives him his next assignment, which includes appointing Elisha as his successor. This haftarah matches the Pinchas story beautifully in featuring a lone, zealous Elijah who finds some inner peace via a divine voice. Yet this is the last time we will be reading this haftarah until 2035 . When Pinchas is read after 17 Tammuz, since we need to get in all three of the three Haftarot of Rebuke before Tisha B’Av, we read the first of those instead, Jeremiah 1:1-2:3. Just as the rabbis were ambivalent toward the zealotry of Pinchas, the limited readings of the assigned haftarah demonstrate similar discomfort with the zealotry of Elijah; in fact, in midrash, Elijah is identified as Pinchas, either incredibly long-lived or at least possessing the same soul. Their pure, white-hot zeal is contained by an inner peace, unlike the murderous vigilantes of our own time.
Honoring Female Pioneers in Science
‘Extraordinary Women in Science and Medicine’ Offers Up Little-Known Details
(below is an excerpt of a New York Times review of a 2013 exhibition on the above topic)
One of the more irresistible chapters concerns Hertha Ayrton, born in Britain in 1854, who as a teenager dropped her given name, Phoebe, to adopt that of a goddess.
She became an electrical engineer specializing in electric arcs and lighting systems, and published a series of papers and a textbook about them. But at a meeting of the Royal Society of London in 1902, she was not allowed to present her own work; her paper had to be read to the gathering by a man. The Royal Society also declared her ineligible for membership, and did not accept a woman until 1945.
Ayrton was involved in the suffragist movement, and among the treasures in the exhibit is a copy of a 1911 census form for England and Wales that was sent to her. She mailed it back blank but for her signature and a bold, elegant scrawl: “How can I answer all these questions if I have not the intelligence to vote between two candidates for parliament? I will not supply these particulars until I have my rights as a citizen. Votes for Women.”
UNBOWED Hertha Ayrton, an electrical engineer, returned a census form with a note of protest. (National Archives)
Quotes about Zealotry
“A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism.”
― Carl Sagan
“It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.”
― Anatole France
“Fundamentalism isn’t about religion, it’s about power.”
― Salman Rushdie
Top Biblical Personalities Found in Your Workplace (selections)
Moses – Left his current less desirable situation and brought his staff with him. Had to split the place after they worked him like a slave
Jonah – Swallowed by a whale of a project, hasn’t been seen in months
Pinchas – Zealously took on corporate corruption and won
Bilam –Consultant/Contractor brought in to crush the competition, ended up being a loose canon
70 Zikainim (elders) –The board of directors
Isaac – Only has his job cause his father Abraham started the place
(Not the still, small voice of the haftarah, but this one still concerns a small voice, and it made me smile.)
The boss of a big company needed to call one of his employees about an urgent problem with one of the main computers. He dialed the employee’s home phone number and was greeted with a child’s whispered, “Hello?”
Feeling put out at the inconvenience of having to talk to a youngster the boss asked,” Is your Daddy home?” “Yes”, whispered the small voice. “May I talk with him?” the man asked. To the surprise of the boss, the small voice whispered, “No.”
Wanting to talk with an adult, the boss asked,” Is your Mommy there?” “Yes,” came the answer. “May I talk with her?” Again the small voice whispered, “No”.
Knowing that it was not likely that a young child would be left home alone, the boss decided he would just leave a message with the person who should be there watching over the child. “Is there anyone there besides you?” the boss asked the child.
“Yes” whispered the child, “A policeman.” Wondering what a cop would be doing at his employee’s home, the boss asked, “May I speak with the policeman? ”
“No, he’s busy”, whispered the child.” Busy doing what?” asked the boss. “Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the Fireman,” came the whispered answer.
Growing concerned and even worried as he heard what sounded like a helicopter through the ear piece on the phone the boss asked, “What is that noise?”
“A hello-copper”, answered the whispering voice. “What is going on there?” asked the boss, now alarmed.
In an awed whispering voice the child answered, “The search team just landed the hello-copper.”
Alarmed, concerned and more than just a little frustrated the boss asked, “Why are they there?”
Still whispering, the young voice replied along with a muffled giggle:
“They’re looking for me”
Bizarre inheritance stories
Inheritance story #2: Buried Treasure Island
A teenager named Josh had only seen his grandfather a handful of times before he passed away. His grandfather wasn’t a big part of his life because Josh’s father was not a part of their family’s religious faith, but despite that, Josh had left a soft spot in his grandfather’s heart. Josh soon found out that he was named the heir to his grandfather’s estate which included 80 acres of farmland and a 36 acre island, but also there was a surprise in the will, they discovered a detailed list of antique jewelry and loose gems that was contained in “the thermos.” Josh’s mother remembered her father always talking about “treasure island” when she was younger so from that point on they knew there was treasure in Josh’s inherited island, so that begun their hunting expedition to uncover the rest of the inheritance.
(I don’t think they’ve found it yet. IGP)
FEAST OR FAMINE (Jewish Humor) (oldie but goodie)
As a general principle, Jewish holidays are divided between days on which you must starve and days on which you must overeat… Though there are many feasts and fasts, there are no holidays requiring light snacking. (Although you can invent your own e.g. the Extremely Reform Festival of the Pretzel Sticks.)
The Yo-Yo Diet Guide to the Jewish Holidays: (lightly edited)
Rosh Hashanah – Feast
Tzom Gedalia – Fast
Yom Kippur — Serious fasting
Sukkot – Feast
Hoshanah Rabbah — More feasting
Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah — Keep feasting
Month of Heshvan — No feasts or fasts for a whole month. Get a grip on yourself.
Hanukkah – Feast – Eat potato pancakes
Tenth of Tevet – Fast – Do not eat potato pancakes
Tu B’Shevat – Feast
Fast of Esther – Fast
Purim — Eat pastry
Passover — Do not eat (leavened) pastry
Shavuot — Dairy feast (cheesecake, blintzes etc.)
17th of Tammuz — Fast (definitely no cheesecake or blintzes)
Tisha B’Av — Strict fast (don’t even think about cheesecake or blintzes)
Month of Elul — End of cycle. Enroll in Center for Eating Disorders before the High Holidays arrive.