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Judaism, Torah and Talmud


Parasha No. 41
Pinehas: “Pinehas”

Bemidbar (Numbers) 25, 10 - 30, 1

Vanquishing death by life


Plan Extract in Hebrew
with transliteration and
First level
Summary of the parasha
The mitzvot in the parasha

Second level
Summary Listen to the parasha chanted
Commentary on the Shla's Teamim Ashkenazim (ORT link)
concept of death
Explanation of the Shla's theory
Man as an individual within the
larger dual context
Return to Pinehas and the body Listen to the parasha chanted
The present in context Teamim Sepharadim (Alliance link)
The role of the mitzvot
Memorization exercises Listen to the haftara chanted
Discussion on the commentary Teamim Ashkenazim (ORT link)

This parasha is dedicated to the elevation of the soul
of Rabbi Moshe Yosef ben Raphael Zenou,
who for 21 years was my devoted master and who transmitted
to me the teamim of the Torah and a fervent respect and love
for each letter of the Torah.
He passed away during this parasha, on the 16th of Tammuz,
the date also of the birth of his pupil.


First level

Summary of the parasha

Pinehas halted the ruse of the Midianites who used their women to seduce and vanquish the Israelites. Rashi says:
"keshe takaf yitzro alav, at the height of passion
veomer la: hishamei li, when he said to her: fulfill me
ve hi motzia lo demut perio mehekah, she took out an image of her idol
veomeret lo: histahava laze, and said: prostate yourself before this."
The tactic has remained the same for centuries: demoralize Israel, distance it from its God, persuade it to choose other gods and values, promise it peace in exchange for suicide. Pinehas halted this decline and thus brought to an end the epidemic which had struck the people and taken 24,000 victims.
For this, he received an extra yud to his name. What does he symbolize?
Let me have your thoughts and next week I will give you some of the traditional answers.
Pinehas also received as a reward the covenant of peace: the word shalom has a broken vav because……. ….. (let me have explanation and I will give you my response).
24,000 dead. Since there are 24 books in the Tanakh, the Bible, this means that a people who reject the Torah to such an extent will meet certain death.
The meaning of numbers: a new census is ordered and the results details those who did good or evil deeds (for example, Korah's evil deed is described as are the good deeds of his sons 26, 10-11). The numbers for each family are very precise in order that each should receive his part of the inheritance which Hashem gave to the people, His land (ch. 26, 53). Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: "unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names, leele tehalek haaretz benahala be mispar shemot."
This second census shows that all those who had been in the desert perished save for Moshe, Yehoshua and Caleb.
In chapter 27, the daughters of Zelophebad ask to receive the inheritance of their father and their request is granted. Then Hashem tells Moshe to behold the land from afar (Mount Nebo) before he dies. Refer to the section "See Israeli and live" and the photo of the land of Israel taken from Mount Nebo.
Moshe transmits the succession to Yehoshua. The parasha then describes the offerings to be made every day, on Shabbat and on the festivals. It concludes with this phrase: And Moshe told the children of Israel according to all that Hashem commanded Moshe."

The mitzvot in the parasha

The parasha describes 6 mitzvot, nos. 400-405:
enabling an inheritance to pass to a daughter when there are no sons (27, 8);
the continual burnt-offering, ola tamid (28, 6);
the burnt offering of the two he-lambs (28, 9);
the burnt offering for the first day of the month (28, 11);
the offerings for the festival of Shavuot (28, 26-27);
the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashana (29, 10.

In all this, death is presented at the center of life (like a peril that threatens those who distance themselves from Hashem), through sacrifices whose role is to bring men closer to Hashem and in Moshe's death, which is a difficult but necessary par tof the order of things.
It is important to understand this inclusion of death amidst life. The Shla helps us in this.

The Shla bases his commentary on the meaning of death on the extraordinary nature of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. Below is a synthesis of his ideas.
Basing himself on Job 40, 7, the Shla states that the innocent (Pinehas) was spared while the just (Nadav and Avihu) perished, but Pinehas inherited their zealousness, as is indicated in the word na in this verse, which is made up of the initials of their two names. Thus Pinehas was appointed to the position of high priest (cohen gadol), which Nadav and Avihu failed to attain. This is why Nadav and Avihu are often called the sons of Aharon, as though they had succeeded in achieving part of what Aharon had transmitted to his sons.
The Shla then shows us how the spirit or essence of a man is transmitted to others (Moshe to Yehoshua, Moshe to all Jews).
This parasha transmits to us an unusual teaching on essential questions of human existence, questions on which we often remain silent out of a sense of propriety.
Those who claim that "Judaism deals with life and not with death" do so in order to denigrate the teachings which God and our Sages gave us so that we should live better.


Second level

The Shla views the problem of death in an entirely positive and optimistic perspective, placing it in a tertiary cycle (union, rupture, reunification). His view is original for death is rarely presented in this way.
We know that Judaism considers the resurrection of the dead as a phase which will follow that of our world. Received views on the subject are that:
resurrection is of secondary importance to our life in this world;
Judaism concerns itself with the world of living rather than of the dead;
Judaism does not seek to know what will happen in the world to come for it considers that what is visible is man's concern and what is invisible is the concern of God.

But these views are often the result of a mixture of:
defensive reactions against the attitude to death of other religions which borrowed elements of the Biblical tradition in order to construct a new faith, which often claimed to be a substitute to Judaism;
phobic reactions to death;
reactions against popular beliefs and practices which are based more on naivety than on tradition.

Instead of remaining at the level of these counter-theories, it is preferable to listen to what the Sages have to say, for they have a thorough and complete knowledge of our tradition.

The Shla bases his interpretation on the fact that all the examples given of death, such as the sudden, violent death of the sons of Aharon or of Zimri at the hands of Pinehas, are transmitted to us, not as events in an individual life, but as events which concern the entire people and which contain teachings that are of importance to every Jew.

We know the facts: let's look at the interpretation.
Here is the beginning of the Shla's commentary on this parasha:
"Blessed is he who made man in Wisdom,
I wish to say
for man to be Wise and act intelligently with a pure body and a soul whose source is in the Almighty,
they should be one,
equal in their orientation towards good,
devoted to Hashem
and live forever."

Let's examine each phrase separately.
"Blessed is he who made man in Wisdom:"
Death must be viewed as a part of a world where everything is benediction, where everything stems from the source of life in a process during which each part of the world is being recreated. Man should be viewed only in this perspective.

Let us continue.

" for man to be Wise and act intelligently with a pure body and a soul which has its source in the Almighty, they should be one."
In such a world, even if man is destined to be divided through death and therefore suffer destruction (real and partial), one must not view man as divided. Man is a unity, which has its source in the Almighty. Life and death must therefore be seen as part of this unity.

Let us continue.

"they should be equal in their orientation towards good,
devoted to Hashem and live (singular) forever.."
This unity stems from the source in the Almighty but also from its orientation: through his will and self-discipline, man can achieve this plan. The Shla concludes: the aim of all this, for man, is life, without rupture.

The Shla thus presents the problem of death within a Judaism that is solid and secure. The Shla does not simply this difficult question, for he dares to speak of it, both in terms of the soul and the body, as a life that will be without rupture and will last. He adds that this systemic unity of soul and body must be close to Hashem, whom no destruction can affect.

Is this a personal theory put forward by the Shla? No, for he states that it is not a theory on a particular issue, it represents the whole structure of creation as taught by Judaism:
ki letakhkit ze nivra…
"for it is for this plan that man was created."
Man was therefore not created for death, or for separation or division, and this positive plan cannot be destroyed. How then can we understand in this context the concrete death which all men see and experience in themselves and in others? The Shla continues:

Omnam haadam kilkel ve naase haguf homer bishevira zohi hamita..
But man damaged (this plan) and the body was made of destructible material, clay of the earth."
One of the elements from which man is made became material, linked more to nature than to the divine source.

"Ve ein lo takana ella bishevira, zohi hammita…
and the only reparation for this damage is rupture, is death."
Nothing pejorative is said about the body, simply that it became different to its original state and no longer linked to its divine source.
In order to re-attain this optimal state, a separation is necessary and it is this sudden, brutal separation which is called shevira, break.

"Velo yetukan ad leatid she yavo mashiah, az yismah Hashem be maasav veyahzoa haolam kevitehilate haberia..
and this will not be repaired until the time when the messiah will come, then Hashem will rejoice in his works, and the world will return as at the beginning of creation.."
The break (engendered by death) is therefore part of a positive process that is made up of three stages:
separation through death,
the coming of the messiah,
reparation and restoration of the world to its original state, God's rejoicing in his works, the functioning of creation according to the divine plan.

Commentary on the Shla: death as a stage in a larger process
If a Jew has not studied his tradition, he is unable to see death in this optimistic, broad perspective. He will see death only through
the image of immobile corpses;
the loss of relationships with loved ones;
the complete destruction of their lives.
In contrast, Jewish tradition will give him another view of death, even if it does not remove individual pain and sorrow in those who approach death and those who are bereaved.
Death, in Jewish tradition, is a stage which is
necessary in order to make a separation between a deficient stage and a new one;
the new stage will represent a step forward in global process;
a positive step towards a state of greater harmony and happiness, which will be closer to God. And perhaps to men.

At the same time, Jewish tradition
teaches us acceptance, since this break/separation is the only possible solution in order to continue in the path of life;
gives us comfort, and helps us put aside our personal pain, to rejoice in the joy of the person who moves on, for he has been chosen by God to be elevated to greater spheres.
This is why we use the term "hiluta" (marriage) to describe the death of Sages for, through death, they attain a greater union with divine love, in the makom (place) which is God.

Explanation of the Shla's concept of death
In his commentary on the parasha, the Shla goes on to define the following stages:
the stage of union within creation,
the stage of rupture,
the stage of reunification on the individual, collective, historical and physical levels.
Here are his conclusions:
"To this the Sages zal refer in Tractate Pessahim, the chapter on sacrifices; Rabbi Yohanan said: the gathering of the exiles is great like the day when the heavens and the earth were created together (as a pair) as it is said: "Then shall the children of Yehuda and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head and they shall come up out of the land for great shall be the day of Jezreel" (Hosea 2, 2) and it is written "and the evening and the morning (pair) were the first day" (Bereshit 1, 5). The aim is this: when there will truly be a gathering of exiles at the time when the messiah our tzaddik will come, then creation will renew itself in a new light according to the (original) divine plan. And the body will unite with the nefesh (pair)."

An explanation is needed here: the nefesh which is to unite with the body, is more than just what we, in the West, define as the soul: it is the living synthesis of an individual as well as his psychic life and soul. The highest level of the soul is the neshama whose source is divine and it remains inalterable.

Man as an individual within the larger dual context

The Shla does not only put forward a theory of development based on three stages (union, separation, reunification), he also deals with the problem of the existential significance of a person's death within the context of mankind.
The Shla deals with the question in a perspective that encompasses other pairings
in space (the heavens and the earth),
in time (night and day),
in the history of the Jewish people (the sons of Yehuda and the sons of Israel),
he makes an analogy between these various broken pairings (the gathering the exiles with the creation of day and night),
he connects the first stage with the last stage.

If one studies the Shla's writings on this theme, one sees that he considers in the same light individual death, the gathering of exiles, and the union of night and day. We see this in his commentary Shaar hashamayim on the blessing yotzer or uvore hoshekh ("creates light and creates darkness"), which precedes the Shema Yisrael in the morning prayer.
He bases himself on the Ramban's commentary on Bereshit 1,4: "And God divided the light from the darkness."
God created light first, then separated it in order to create darkness. This is why light comes first in verse 1, 3, Then there is the division between light and darkness, then there is evening and morning, then the first day.
The order is thus: light-darkness-night morning-day-one. We need to look carefully at the subtleties inherent in this order: light comes first, but it only illuminates the superior world and penetrates our inferior world in the form of darkness: it illuminates it from within and bursts out to flood it with light and create a "day" which unites the two worlds. In this world, we are unable to see the original light.
But we can attain what God offers us, which is peace, as is written in the blessing preceding the Shema:
yotzer or uvore hoshekh, ose shalom u vore et hakol:
"creates light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates all things."

The symbolic lights of this world (the sun and the moon) represent this original light. It impregnates the earth and all who dwell in it, as is written in the continuation of the blessing:
hammeir haaretz veladarim aleya verahamim…
"which illuminates with its mercy the earth and all those who dwell in it."


Back to Pinehas and the body
The Shla applies this theory of reunification not only to individual death, but also to the various pairings cited by Rabbi Yohanan.
Going back to our commentary on parasha Pinehas, we see that it applies in particular to the body, when it is affected by death.

…"And equally the earth which is matter will be full of knowledge and together they will be pure below.
And they will receive the flux of abundance from on high and will be alive forever in the body and in the nefesh.
As at the time of Creation."…….

The Shla's concept does not simply mean that "there will be a resurrection of the body which we call the resurrection of the dead:" he is talking about a reunification of the different elements of man within the flux of original life which will re-instate the original unity and harmony of creation.

The present in context
Thus the body, that of man when he is alive and that when he dies, must be considered within this context:
its original, elevated state,
and the state it will regain which will be equally elevated.

The role of the mitzvot
Anticipation of a unified life

The concept of the body in life and in death as presented by the Shla is very lofty, while in his emotional and daily life man encounters real ruptures (sickness-suffering-death) and it is impossible for him to accept this concept solely at a philosophical and cognitive level. The Shla deals immediately with this problem.
"The fact is that man "nevertheless being in honor abideth not" (Psalm 49, 13) for he has been deficient and invited death."
Omnam natan Hashem lanu Torat emet she al yadah nizke leatid
"but Hashem gave us the Torah of truth and, through it, we will deserve the world to come.."
The expression "Torah of truth" should not be understood simply as meaning the true Torah, the Torah which speaks the truth or possesses the truth. Indeed, if the Shla uses this expression in this context, it is because it has a very specific meaning in Jewish tradition, which provides the answer to the problem we are discussing.

The word emet (truth) must be understood through the richness of each of its letters, on which there are many detailed commentaries.
Without going into the intricacies of Kabbala, we can begin the Maharal of Praque in chapter Netivot Haemet of his book Netivot Olam, in which he demonstrates the all-encompassing, temporal, meaning of the word emet which integrates the beginning (with the first letter of the alphabet: aleph), the middle (the middle letter of the alphabet: mem) and the end (the last letter of the alphabe: tav).

If we synthesize this with the Shla's concept, the word emet can be read in acrostic form:
alef representing the first letter of or, light (first phase of creation),
mem representing the first letter of mavet, death (second phase),
tav representing the first letter of tehiya, resurrection or tikun, restoration-reparation (third phase).

Now let's see how the Shla defines the role of the mitzvot in this context:
"and he gave us the mitzvot…….. which teach us that the body, like the nefesh, is eternal."

Thus the mitzvot, with their emotional, intellectual, spiritual and inter-personal dimensions, are already a way of participating in the world to come, in the context of the divine plan which will remain eternal.

If we apply this to the most basic problems we face in life, it means that even though there is greater sensitivity towards the "terminally sick," and more humane approaches in hospitals, there is still a great need to improve the way we deal with sick people. Instead of seeing them as deficient or diminished, we should see them as experiencing the height of human existence. As the Talmud says, their condition is one of absolute poverty and we must therefore accord them attention and respect.

Further studies
In this parasha, and in the same context, the daughters of Zelophehad ask Moses for the right to inherit their father's estate. Their request is granted. The just solution to the problem of death ensures the livelihood and happiness of everyone.

What is the meaning of the parasha?
The Creator alone knows His reasons; life and death have the same trajectory in His life. Every word of Psalm 23 affirms this.
All this is told to every one of us, not as individuals, but members of His people. "even if my father and mother abandon me, Thou art with me," says the Psalm.
On what must we rely in order to overcome the great failure represented by death? Not on ourselves but solely on the teachings of the Sages and the promises which were made to our people.

No amount of persecution and no attempt by other religions to replace Judaism can destroy this union. No other religion has been faithful to the mila, the circumcision which inscribes the covenant in the flesh, or to the mitzvot.
One day, all the nations will acknowledge that the Jewish people represent benediction. On that day, though late, they will want to join the people, not to destroy convert them or make them unfaithful, but to listen and see the Torah of life.
Till then, we must remain faithful, joyous and strong so that we can deserve to be Israel and Rahel. Read the first book of Yehoshua (Joshua) for everything is inscribed there.

The teachings described here are a tiny part of the immense corpus handed down to us by our Sages on the verses and words of this parasha.
The Shla deduces from them that we must be as strong and determined as Pinehas.
Rabbenu Bahya deduces from this theory of life and death that the primary mitzva is to save Jewish prisoners.
As such we have an obligation to do our utmost to save our brothers in Iran.


Grammatical note
I have chosen to write the name "Pinhas" in the form "Pinehas" because it is important to pronounce the "e" in Pinehas clearly. There are two grammatical reasons for this:
" the i in the first syllable is a long vowel, after which the sheva must be clearly pronounced.
" a metek under the first letter of Pinhas is also a sign that the "e" should be pronounced clearly.


Memorization exercises:

(Bemidbar 25, 10-11)
Vayedabber Hashem et moshe lemor
Pinehas ben Elazar benAharon hacohen heshiv et hamati meal bnei Yisrael
bekaneo et kineati betokham
velo khiliti et bnei Yisraelbekineati

"Hashem spoke unto Moshe saying:
Pinehas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, in that he was very jealous for my sake among them, so that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy."

Bemidbar 26, 53:
lelle tehalek haaretz benahala be mispar shemot
"Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names."

The Shla:
Ve ein lo takana ella bishevira, zohi hammita..
"And there is no reparation of this damage except by rupture, which is death…"

Organize a discussion group on this important and sensitive theme
with your partner, family, friends or colleagues.

This parasha deals with a theme which is rarely discussed but which concerns everyone of us and our loved ones: the journey of death.
This can be an opportunity to express and exchange your deepest feelings.
Those participating in the group should read the parasha (in Hebrew or in English) and this commentary beforehand.
The group meets, determining beforehand the length of the session, chooses a moderator and debates the theme… expressing their thoughts and, most importantly, listening to (shema Yisrael!) and "tempering" one another.
The group will thus exchange personal experiences and thoughts while relating to the text


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
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- Vacances en Israël sur Modia
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- et ici aussi, autre caméra

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L'antique synagogue de Jéricho


Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
- My photos and judaism
- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

All images on the site are personal photos of the author, except a few specified that images are copyright External authorized
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