Pinchas (Numbers 25:10 -30:1)

This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas,  contains the aftermath of the story at the end of last week’s portion, which I deliberately left out; another census; a legal decision concerning when women can inherit; a baton passing; and the additional offerings for the Sabbath, New Moon, and holidays.

At the end of Parashat Balak (last week’s reading), the Israelite men are having orgies with the women of Moab and Midian and worshiping the local god, Baal-Peor.  An Israelite leader from the tribe of Shimon, Zimri, and a Midianite princess, Cozbi, are even fornicating in public, in front of the Tent of Meeting.  Pinchas (Phineas in English, but that sounds too prissily British to me, so I’ll stick with Pinchas), son of Elazar the priest, in a white-hot burst of zealotry, takes a spear and skewers Zimri and Cozbi in the act.  The plague (always a plague…) was thereby stayed, after killing 24,000.  At the beginning of the next reading, Zimri and Cozbi are explicitly identified.  Pinchas is credited by the Lord with saving the Israelites (minus the aforementioned 24,000) and rewarded with the Lord’s “covenant of peace” (also translated “covenant of friendship” which does not make sense) and “covenant of eternal priesthood.”  This is odd.  Pinchas is not a symbol of peace but of singular zealotry bordering on vigilantism.  And indeed, as I noted here last year, in the Torah scroll, the word for peace, shalom, is written with a broken letter vav.  Clearly, the rabbis are conflicted about his behavior.  Maybe that’s one reason the story is broken between two portions?  Rabbinical discomfort with zealotry, even when necessary, is also a reason that the haftarah nominally assigned to this portion, I Kings 18:46 – 19:21, about that other famous zealot, Elijah, is rarely read.  Last year’s reading was the last one until 2035.

After harassing the Midianites, a new census is taken, both for military needs and to ascertain how the land is to be divided up.  The population of men able to bear arms (interestingly, the amazingly long-lived Serah, (step?) daughter of Asher, is also included), 601,730, is almost unchanged from 39 years before, 603,550.  Levites (1 month and up) went from 22,000 to 23,000.  The tribe of Shimon lost over half its population and will eventually disappear.  The tribe of Manasseh has prospered in contrast, up about 64%.

This brings us to the daughters of Zelophehad of Manasseh: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah (Yes! They’re named!).  Their father had no sons, so they want his portion in the Promised Land.  Moses kicks their request upstairs and the Lord agrees with them: where there are no sons, the inheritance passes to the daughter(s).  More on that next time.

Moses is now told that his death is approaching, that he will see the Promised Land but not enter it, and why.  Moses and the Lord settle on Joshua (surprise) as his successor and present him as such to the people.  The portion ends with all those passages we add on for Rosh Hodesh and holiday readings  Sacrifices.  Lots of lams, rams, bulls, and goats.

For the next couple of months, the choice of haftarah is dictated not by the Torah portion, but by the date.  Three “Haftarot of Rebuke” are chanted before Tisha B’Av and seven Haftarot of Consolation after.  That brings us up to Rosh Hashanah.  The first Haftarah of Rebuke is chanted with Pinchas this year, Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3, his call to prophecy, which he resists almost as mightily as Moses.  The lovely imagery in verse 2:2 has become part of the High Holiday liturgy: “ I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, your love as a bride–How you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.”

Shabbat shalom,


‘Grammar vigilantes’ fined for fixing sign at Grand Canyon (abridged)

By Shawn Day
The Virginian-Pilot
© August 23, 2008

Misplacing an apostrophe isn’t a federal offense, but fixing one is — at least when it involves a historic sign inside a national landmark.

Benjamin Herson, 28, of Virginia Beach and Jeff Deck, 28, of Somerville, Mass., learned that lesson the hard way. Federal officials in Arizona charged the self-described “grammar vigilantes” with defacing a nearly 70-year-old hand-painted sign in a watchtower along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

The two men, Dartmouth College graduates whose friendship was forged in a creative writing class, pleaded guilty this month to one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to vandalize government property. In their plea, they acknowledged using error-correcting fluid and a marker to conceal a misplaced apostrophe, insert a new one and add a comma.

They added an apostrophe in “women’s” and added a comma in a list, both in the first paragraph of the sign’s text (see large photo). The location of the concealed apostrophe is unclear.

Herson and Deck made the correction in March during a road trip across the country to “stamp out as many typos as we can find” on behalf of the Typo Eradication Advancement League, according to court records. …

Herson,…said he, Deck and others fixed mistakes on 231 signs.

He also offered a bit of advice for others who feel passionate about proper punctuation:

“Ask politely if people will correct their typos, but don’t be a vigilante because there are consequences.”

Shawn Day, (757) 222-5131,

——————– (thanks, Stanley!)

Since Passover observance is included in this week’s portion, here’s a patent for a tool useful in buttering matzah without breaking it.  IGP

Tools for treatment of a substance on a surface
US 8024835 B2


A method and tools operative for treatment of a substance in association with a surface of an object or body have a first treatment tool and a second backing tool. The treatment tool has a rigid retention portion and a treatment portion, and is manufactured as a single integrated tool. A backbone extends in cantilever out of the retention portion to support a resilient and flexible blade, retained at a twist angle relative to the handle. The blade is configured for controlled deflection about the backbone when vertical forces in excess of a predetermined force are met, to prevent damage to the surface or to the object. The retention portion and the treatment portion are disposed in mutual angular spatial relationship for ease of use of the tool. The backing tool supports the object during treatment.

tph spreader for matzah

I am so glad I don’t have to read or write stuff like that anymore!  IGP


The Argentine maid who recived $40m after a judicial battle that involved a corpse’s robbery

6th of 10 Unbelievable Inheritance Stories

Eva Paole, a retired Argentine maid, has inherited the whopping sum of $40 million after a nine-year legal battle. It was a decade ago that Paole first heard the rumor that she might be the daughter of baron Rufino Otero, who died in 1983 and had no children with his wife. Until then, Paole always had thought she was the daughter of her mother, Josefa, and her partner. Her mother took the secret of Eva’s real father to her grave. According to Eva, “money isn’t everything” and what is really important for her is that she has finally discovered her true identity. DNA tests showed she truly is the daughter of the powerful landowner who died 25 years ago.

If all of that wasn’t enough material for a soap opera, six weeks after Eva began legal proceedings, Otero’s tomb was desecrated and his corpse exchanged for another. To establish Paole’s relation to Otero, authorities used the remains of the land baron’s mother, Justina Porras instead. (Source 1 | Source 2 | Photo)


Farmers and their mad cows

August 28th, 2008

A man’s car stalled on a country road one morning. When the man got out to fix it, a cow came along and stopped beside him. “Your trouble is probably in the carburetor,” said the cow. Startled, the man jumped back and ran down the road until he met a farmer. The amazed man told the farmer his story. ”Was it a large red cow with a brown spot over the right eye?” asked the farmer. “Yes, yes,” the man replied. ”Oh! I wouldn’t listen to Bessie,” said the farmer. “She doesn’t know a thing about cars.”


tph search_committee_cartoon


From R. K. Murthi’s book, Rib-Tickling Jokes, p. 53:

(Story filed by Gene Weingarten) (slightly abridged)

As I filled out my Census Form 2000, I noticed two things:

  1. A truly wicked and irresponsible person could have some fun with the answers.
  2. You don’t have to sign your name.

I telephoned the Census Bureau and spoke with a woman named Mary Dole.  When I asked why you don’t have to sign your census form, she said, “The person who can help you is 8238.”

8328 turned out to be an extension.  It was the wrong extension.  The right extension was 3691, where a man said he could be a source, ‘but not a quotable source.”  I could quote him as The Census.

I asked, “Why don’t you have to sign your census form?” “I don’t know,” explained The Census.  I asked if this could be because the census didn’t really care if people lied a little.

“No.  You have to tell the truth, ”he said.  “There’s a $100 fine for not sending the form in and a $500 fine for giving false information.”

But if you don’t have to sign your name, the government can’t prove you’re the one who filled it out.

“That’s true,” conceded The Census.

Something to think about for 2020…IGP

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