My notes on Pinchas

Parashat Pinchas

Numbers 25

25:11          Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.

Comment: Gd explained that the plague stopped due to the zealous action of Phinehas, otherwise people wouldn’t know why the plague stopped.

25:12          Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:

Comment: Normally, killing someone who has not been trialed by a court is committing murder, and the killer is liable of death penalty according to the Bible. In this case, Phinehas killed not just an ordinary citizen but a tribal leader. Also Phinehas acts on his own and is not obeying the order of any authority. So it is necessary to Gd to make it clear that He is making an exception in this case and actually rewarding the killer. With these words conveyed by the trusted prophet Moses, and with the miraculous stopping of the plague, people will be convinced that killing in this case is justifiable as an extraordinary event, which shouldn’t be freely imitated in the future.


25:13
          And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his Gd, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.

Comment: Both the killer and the one being killed are descendants from the two violent tribal fathers (Levi and Simeon, respectively, see Genesis 34), who eliminated the city of Shechem in revenge for their sister. Their forefathers’ violent action was condemned by their grand-forefather Jacob (Genesis 49:5-7). In this case, however, the two descendants obtained completely opposite outcomes, one promoted to priesthood , another died a disgraceful death. What made the difference is whether to love the true Gd, or to betray Him. Despite the past history, a choice of which side to stand on may completely change the fate.

 

Numbers 26

26:4          Take the sum of the people, from twenty years old and upward; as the LRD commanded Moses and the children of Israel, which went forth out of the land of Egypt.

Comment: It was puzzling to me why the scripture mentions here “the children of Israel, which went forth out of the land of Egypt.” Many of this new generation of people are between 20 and 38 years old, who didn’t actually experience the exodus of Egypt.  From Rashi’s comment here, it seems that the sentence here really intends to emphasize that these young people are also counted in the same way as the previous generation was counted at Sinai, even though they were not physically present during the exodus or during the acceptance of Ten Commandments at Sinai. 

I think this actually teaches an important lesson, that even if we were not physically present in these historical events either, we too could be counted in the same way as the generation who were physically present at Sinai, in order to carry out the tasks that they failed to fulfill, to conquer our own “promised land”, and to live there by following Gd’s commandments.

Numbers 27

27:16          Let the LRD, the Gd of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation,

Comment: Rashi’s comment here connects this request of Moses to the earlier teachings on inheritance by daughters. Moses in fact has sons, but they are not merited to inherit the leadership position of Moses. Moses’ prayer teaches me that Gd is not only the Gd of all flesh, but also the Gd of all spirits. There is not only inheritance by descendants in flesh, but also inheritance by descendants in spirit. Joshua is the spiritual descendant of Moses as the leader of the new generation. We are also spiritual descendants of Moses as students of the Bible. This concept of descendants by spirit is especially encouraging for those people who don’t have physical children. They will be glad to know that Jesus and Paul are among them, who already have had billions of spiritual descendants. 

The concept of nonphysical inheritance is also prevalent in science and crafts, which is actually the main driving force of human progression. In ancient China in all kinds of crafts (such as carpentry or martial arts), a teacher is called “father in teaching” (shi fu), fellow students are called “brothers in teaching” (shi xiong di). In science, let’s look at this chain of people: Tycho Brache, Johannes Kepler, Issac Newton…  It is unclear to me if each of them had physical children, but their academic inheritance is what actually matters for science.

In faith, the concept of inheritance by spirit is fully sanctioned by the Bible. See a later event of how prophets pass the baton from one generation to another, notice how the same spirit is doubly invested on the student and how the student refers to the teacher as his father: (II Kings, 2:9-12) “And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.”

 

Numbers 28

28:3          And thou shalt say unto them, This is the offering made by fire which ye shall offer unto the LRD; two lambs of the first year without spot day by day, for a continual burnt offering.

Comment:. These chapters on offerings follow the descriptions on inheritance of the promised land. This order hints to me, that offering to Gd is the ultimate purpose of possessing the promised land. There in the promised land (but not here in the wilderness), they will be able to graze the sheep in pastures green, they will be able to grow grape vines, and wheat, and forests of olive trees, from which they can offer animal sacrifices, meal offerings mixed with olive oil, and drink offerings from grape wine.

The following two chapters talk a lot about these offerings. Are they relevant in any way to the  modern day believers? The Bible should never be out of fashion! 

To answer this question, let us note two features of the biblical offerings, and see what modern activities also possess similar features.

(I) (Seemly “wasted”) The flesh of these offerings are burnt and not eaten by any people. Isn’t this a big waste, that we couldn’t benefit from the wools that could grow from them if they were kept alive, or from the meat that we could eat even if they are slaughtered? What is the purpose of the burnt offering? The Hebrew words related to the offerings can give us some clues.

(II) (Closer to Gd) The Hebrew words “olah” (burnt offering) and “korban” (sacrifice) also relate to the meanings of “going higher” and “getting nearer”, respectively. Burning these sacrifices were in fact intended to get closer to Gd, Who created everything, Who makes all living things live, and it is He Who gives us all those sheeps. He in fact has the right not only to those sheep’s lives but also to our own lives. We burn the sheep daily to acknowledge His right and to rededicate our own lives to live for Him. 

I think a modern analog of the daily burnt offering is regular prayers and Bible study. The time spent in these activities are seemingly “wasted”, since we could have used that time to make money, or do family chores, or do entertainment. These activities bring ourselves closer to Gd, and are purposed to rededicate our lives to serve the Creator. 

So in these two senses, I think regular prayers and Bible study in modern times are similar to the regular burnt offerings in the Bible. Remember my previous explanation, that offering to Gd can be regarded as the ultimate purpose of possessing the promised land. For Gd’s people, if you already have (or are still longing for) a stable source of income, a nice environment, and plenty of free time, you should consider that they are like your own “promised land”, whose ultimate purpose is to be used in worshiping Gd!

Numbers 29

29:32          And on the seventh day seven bullocks, two rams, and fourteen lambs of the first year without blemish:

Comment: Somehow, the number 14 appears many times in these sacrifices related to the feast of tabernacles. In addition to the 14 lambs each day during this seven day festival, the total number of rams (two daily for a week) is also 14. I think they refer to the word David, since in Hebrew,  David (“Dvd”) can be used to denote number 14. The victorious Biblical king David symbolizes the Messianic era, when Gd’s people will ultimately triumph over their enemies. The number 14 also is the number of days needed for the disappearing moon to become full again. Jesus’ genealogy in the beginning of the book of Matthews is also recorded in chunks of 14 generations, and Christians believe that he will come again, which is like the full moon that will return. Some of the related information can be found at, e.g.,  https://lifeinmessiah.org/blog/14

 

29:40          And Moses told the children of Israel according to all that the LRD commanded Moses.

Comment: This verse alone is somehow regarded as the first verse of Chapter 30 in the Jewish Bible. E.g., https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9958 I don’t understand why, since as Rashi points out in his commentary to this verse, it should be an integral part of the paragraphs on sacrifices. This verse tells us that Moses has relayed Gd’s commandments on sacrifices and holidays to the Israelites, before he starts to teach on a different topic. Indeed, even though the Jewish Bible counts this verse as Chapter 30:1, it is still included (as the concluding verse) in the current weekly portion named Phinhas.