July 23, 2022: Parashat Pinchas – What Does Hashem Desire?
This week’s parashah is taken from Numbers 25:10–30:1. Join David as he teaches the weekly Torah portion (Pinchas) where he answers the question: What does Hashem desire?
Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashat:
This week’s parashah gets its name from Pinchas (or as English translations call him “Phinehas”). Within this week’s parashah, we learn about Hashem’s reward for Pinchas due to his action of killing Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Simeon at the end of last week’s parashah. We also read about the third census in the Wilderness as the Israelites were nearing their entry into the Promised Land; we see the petition by the daughters of Zelophehad for a portion in the Land as their father had no sons, and Hashem granting them their request and also creating a similar decree of justice for the entire nation; we see Moses ask Hashem to appoint a leader to replace him, and Hashem choosing Joshua; and finally, the parashah ends with Hashem reminding the nation of the tamid and mussaf offerings.
Let’s quickly backtrack to the end of last week’s parashah. In the aftermath of Balak’s attempts to get Balaam to curse the nation of Israel, we are told in Numbers 25:1-3:
“Israel settled in Shittim and the people began to act promiscuously with the daughters of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods; the people ate and bowed to their gods. Israel became attached to Baal-peor, and the wrath of Hashem flared up against Israel.”
Hashem commanded Moses to kill all of the men who were attached to Baal-peor. Moses was literally in the midst of relaying the command from Hashem to kill all the idolaters when the unthinkable happened.
The Scriptures go on to say in Numbers 25:6:
“And behold! A man of the Children of Israel came and brought the Midianite woman near to his brothers before the eyes of Moses and before the eyes of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel; and they were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.”
It goes on to say (Numbers 25:7-8):
“Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aaron the Kohen saw, and he stood up from amid the assembly and he took a spear in his hand. He followed the Israelite man into the tent and pierced them both, the Israelite man and the woman into her stomach – and the plague was halted from upon the Children of Israel.”
Now, this “Israelite man” was no ordinary man. We find out later that it was Zimri, son of Salu, prince of a father’s house of the Simeonites: He was a prominent prince from the Tribe of Simeon! Moreover, the Midianite woman was no ordinary woman. Her name was Cozbi, daughter of Zur, who was one of the five kings of Midian. She was a princess! So, Pinchas saw a prominent leader of Israel parading his exploit in the midst of the Israelites… nay, even more than that, in the presence of Moses, and at the entrance to the Tabernacle! For whatever reason, Pinchas was the only one to step up and act. Pinchas walked right into Zimri’s tent and killed both of them while they were in the midst of their promiscuous act. Pinchas didn’t care about title, position or status. He saw blatant disregard for Hashem’s commandments and the desecration of Hashem’s Name, and he jumped into action. Remember, Hashem had just given the command to kill the idolaters; and this appears to be the first recorded death of the idolaters – and a prominent prince (and foreign princess) at that too. Yet, Pinchas did not hesitate for a second in snuffing out the wickedness in their midst.
It is against this backdrop that we open up this week’s parashah to read of Hashem speaking to Moses in Numbers 25:11-13:
“Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aaron the Kohen turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in My vengeance. Behold! I give him My covenant of peace. And it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his God, and he atoned for the Children of Israel.”
What is so special or important about Pinchas’ actions that he merited to carry on the office of Kohen Gadol after his father Elazar? There were three notable things that Pinchas did to warrant Hashem’s honour: 1) Pinchas put himself in significant danger by killing a prince from one of the tribes; 2) The vengeance was for the sake of Hashem’s Honor alone and not for any ulterior motive; and 3) The act Pinchas performed was not done in private, hidden from other people; rather, he sanctified the Name of Hashem in the midst of the congregation and assembly. As a result, Hashem gave to Pinchas His covenant of peace, that would translate for him and his offspring into a covenant of eternal priesthood.
This act and the response from Hashem sound very familiar to what happened after the sinning of the Golden Calf. In Exodus 32:26, we read:
“Moses stood at the gateway of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is for Hashem, to me!’ – and all the Levites gathered unto him.”
In similar fashion, Hashem commanded that the Levites go through the camp and kill all those who were involved in the sin. As a result of the tribe of Levi being the only tribe to rush to Moses’ side and to act zealously to avenge Hashem’s vengeance, they were elevated to firstborn status and given the role of priesthood for the nation.
A precedent was set at the sinning of the Golden Calf that rang clearly in the actions of Pinchas. Whether as a tribal action by the Tribe of Levi or as an individual action by Pinchas, it took zealous acts like these to sanctify the Name of Hashem as a result of the breakout of such severe sin in the midst of the nation. It took these great acts of alacrity – of rushing to sanctify the Name of Hashem, to cause the Tribe of Levi to merit elevation to a higher, consecrated level… to be set apart from the rest of the nation as first-born of Hashem; and to cause Pinchas to be elevated to the highest level of the priesthood, to succeed his father Elazar as next in line to be Kohen Gadol.
It took the worst sin – the sin of idolatry – to rile up Hashem’s anger. Why do I say the worst sin? The first two commandments of the Ten Commandments are (Exodus 20:3-5):
“There shall not be unto you the gods of others before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image… You shall not prostrate yourself to them nor worship them, for I am Hashem, your God – a zealous God.”
Hashem hates idolatry. Why? Because as our Creator and Provider, He should be the only one that we worship.
Embodied in the most important prayer in Judaism – the Shema – is the declaration of Hashem’s rulership (Deuteronomy 6:4):
שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה ׀ אֶחָֽד׃
“Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One.”
Hashem only desires to have communion with those who seek Him, and this is such a common desire ringing clearly through all of Scriptures, going all the way back to Adam. Hashem chose and made an eternal covenant with the Jewish nation to be His reflection here on earth, to reveal His Presence to all the nations. So when Hashem’s beloved nation has fallen due to the sins of idolatry or baseless hatred, Hashem has acted with vengeance in kind. Never to eradicate, but to chastise. Hence, the destruction of the two Temples, and the evictions from the Land, but always with the promise that Hashem would bring His people back to the Land.
Let me reiterate, Hashem only desires to have communion with those who seek Him. As we learned back in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus, the Tabernacle service served a fundamental role in drawing the nation closer to Hashem. The Presence of Hashem, His Shechinah, resided in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. Only the Kohanim were allowed in the Mishkan, and then only once a year on Yom Kippur, only the Kohen Gadol could enter the Holy of Holies. Why? Because Hashem is Holy, and He only allows those that are worthy to enter into His Presence. Hence, the elevation of the Kohanim, who were Aaron and his offspring. Not even the Levites could enter the inner sanctum of the Tabernacle. They served to protect the Tabernacle and in various other roles around the Tabernacle service. In the spiritual elevation of the nation, the Kohanim and Levites served as role models for the rest of the nation; and the entire Tabernacle service was all about drawing closer to Hashem – both as a nation and on an individual level through the offerings. In Hebrew, the word for “offering”, namely the animal offering, is קָרְבָּן (“korban”), derived from the verb קרב (“karav”), meaning “to draw near”.
The parashah ends with Hashem reminding the nation about the “tamid” offerings (meaning “continual” offerings), and “mussaf” offerings (meaning “additional” offerings). Without getting too much into the details, the mussaf offerings were only offered on important occasions like Rosh Chodesh and the High Holidays, and varied based on occasion and type of offering. On the other hand, the tamid offering was offered consistently every single day – once in the morning and once in the afternoon, only featured a one-year-old unblemished male lamb, and was an olah-offering (or elevation offering) upon the Bronze Altar. As an olah-offering, the entire lamb was completely consumed upon the Altar rather than the choice fats and innards as was done with the sin-, guilt- and peace-offerings. In addition, it was accompanied by a meal-offering mixed with crushed oil, and a wine libation. Also, the fires of the Altar were a reminder of the Israelite’s encounter at Mount Sinai as Hashem descended upon it with fire.
That said, I’d like to focus on the tamid offering solely here. The key point about the tamid offering to remember here is that it was continually offered in the same way every day as an elevation-offering upon the Altar.
Yet, this is not the first time we learn about the tamid offering in the Torah. We read first about it back in Exodus 29. So, why is Hashem here reminding the Israelites of this specific offering? Because the Children of Israel were about to enter the Land after 40 years in the Wilderness. While the tamid offering was in effect throughout the Wilderness, Hashem was reminding the nation that even though they were about to enter the Land, the tamid offering remained in force.
Hashem spoke to Moses in Numbers 28:2-3:
צַו אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאָמַרְתָּ֖ אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אֶת־קָרְבָּנִ֨י לַחְמִ֜י לְאִשַּׁ֗י רֵ֚יחַ נִֽיחֹחִ֔י תִּשְׁמְר֕וּ לְהַקְרִ֥יב לִ֖י בְּמוֹעֲדֽוֹ׃
“Command the Children of Israel and say to them: My offering, My food for My fires, My satisfying aroma, you shall keep watch to offer to Me in its appointed time.”
What interesting language from the Master of the Universe, using such possessive terms with regards to the offerings. The Midrash comes along with the following (Midrash Rabbah 21:1):
“The Holy One Blessed is He said to Moses: ‘Say to Israel – not because I need the offerings. The whole world is Mine, the animal that you offer, I have created it.’ And so it states in Psalm 50:12, ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fulness are mine’ (Psalm 50:12).”
The tamid offering is ultimately about “service of the heart”. Yes, a daily ritual involving animal, bread, oil and wine possessions that come from Hashem, but we need to focus on the intent of the heart. Remember, the daily ritual revolved around the elevation-offering of the entire lamb, completely consumed on the fires of the Altar, speaking ultimately of self-sacrifice to Hashem – only through drawing near to the Altar, drawing near to Hashem. Why are they being brought before Hashem every single day, twice a day? As observers, it is about the continual service of bringing the entirety of ourselves before Hashem in order to draw near to our Creator. We exist in this world because Hashem allows it. We have our health and vitality because Hashem allows it. We have all that we have because Hashem allows it. And we are to be reminded by the continual tamid offering of our servitude to Hashem. This world and all that is within it belongs to the Holy One Blessed be He.
Again, let me reiterate, Hashem only desires to have communion with those who seek Him. But in order to do so, we need to show Him that we desire communion with Him. No relationship in this world lasts if it is only sustained by only one person. The same goes for our Heavenly Father. The Tabernacle service serves as a model for us to teach us about drawing near to our Heavenly Father, and it entirely involves our service to Him.
So you may ask – the tamid offering has not been in effect for nearly 2,000 years. What purpose does it serve anymore? The tamid offering ceased on the 17th of Tammuz right before the Second Temple was destroyed. The short answer, we have prayer! To this day, the Jewish prayer services of morning shacharit and afternoon minchah have served as replacements for the loss of the physical morning and afternoon tamid offerings. These prayer services serve to replicate the essence of the tamid offering so that even though a lamb has not been offered on the Altar for 2,000 years, the service is served through the intentions of our hearts and the words of our mouths.
The late R’ Joseph Soloveitchik wrote in his book “Worship of the Heart” that: “Prayer was established to correspond to the sacrifice of man to God. However, one does not approach Him suddenly according to man’s caprice.”
In other words, prayer is about self-sacrifice, and it is not to be taken lightly, just as the Kohanim were the only ones allowed to perform the tamid offerings because of their elevated state of holiness.
Soloveitchik goes on to say: “To bring a sacrifice is to come close to God. The Torah desired that man be intimate with God. Man must not flee from him, but rather must yearn for and move toward Him.”
Prayer must be a continual, daily act of our lives, never ceasing if our desire is to draw closer to Hashem.
Rambam wrote on the subject: “It is impossible to conceive of Divine worship without including prayer in it. What then is prayer? It is the expression of the soul that yearns of God via the medium of the word, through which the human being gives expression to the storminess of his soul and spirit.”
Rambam takes prayer beyond the apparent scope of the tamid offering to speak of our closeness to Hashem. As part of drawing closer to Him, we learn to rely more on Him for everything in our lives.
Turning back to Soloveitchik, he wrote eloquently on this point: “Service of the heart actually embraces the total commitment of man to his Creator, his being rooted in, close to and at the same time infinitely far from God, his fear and his love of God, his anxiety and security, despair and hope, his certainty and doubts, his awareness of being and non-being, of rationality and purposiveness, and, simultaneously, of the absurdity and meaninglessness of the human performance. Prayer is one aspect of service of the heart, but service is not confined in its process of objectification to prayer; service expresses itself in a variety of ways, since it is the sum total of man’s relationship to God.”
Prayer is but one aspect of our service of the heart to Hashem. It must be a part of our everyday lives so that, more and more, we recognize our absolute finiteness in this Universe and our total dependence on our Heavenly Father. It is our communion with Hashem: Our opportunity to connect with our Awesome Creator. It is a critical element of our service of Hashem to impact our actions and deed in this world for His Kingdom, Glory and Honour.
Many, many times throughout the Gospels, our Messiah Yeshua spoke on prayer and led by example. Oh, how Yeshua loved to pray.
In Matthew 14:23, we read: “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone”.
In Mark 1:35: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
In Luke 6:12: “In these days, he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.”
And many, many more instances. And keep in mind that the Temple was still standing, and we know that Yeshua loved the House of Hashem and spent much time there. What does this tell us? Yeshua made prayer an integral part of his life to commune with Hashem. He knew how to take the essence of the tamid offering and apply it into his individual connection with Hashem.
Remember, the tamid offering is a model intended to show us how to draw closer to Hashem. And here, Yeshua is showing us how to do that, to draw closer to Hashem through prayer.
He taught in Matthew 6:6-13: “When you pray, go into your room, close your door behind you, and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees the secret things will be generous with you. And when you pray, do not babble like the Gentiles who say in their heart, ‘By the abundance of our words we will be heard’. But as for you, do not imitate them, because your Father knows all of your needs before you ask of him. Therefore, this is what you should pray: ‘Our Father, Who is in Heaven, may Your Name be sanctified. May Your Kingdom come, as Your Will is done in Heaven, may it also be on Earth. Give us the bread that is our allotment today, and pardon us our debts, as we also have pardoned those indebted to us. And do not bring us into the hands of testing, but rescue us from what is evil.”
With all of this said, it must be emphasized that prayer is not for the select few, but rather for all of those who desire to know Hashem and seek Him.
As Yeshua said in Matthew 7:7: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened for you.”
That simple. It starts with the intention of the heart, and morphs into spoken words from the mouth. Those words elevate into the Presence of Hashem as a satisfying aroma, as Hashem described the tamid offering to Moses: “My offering, My food for My fires, My satisfying aroma.”
In coming into the knowledge of Hashem, may we turn towards Hashem and away from the idolatrous practices of this world. May we make it a continual daily effort to draw closer to Hashem through prayer, recognizing our finiteness and fallibility, and concurrently, our absolute dependence on Hashem for everything in our lives and in this world. May we be filled with the zeal of Pinchas to sanctify and elevate the Name of Hashem in the world through our thoughts, deeds and actions. All for His Kingdom, His Glory and His Honour.