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
ve hi motzia lo demut perio mehekah, she took out an image
of her idol
veomeret lo: histahava laze, and said: prostate yourself
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
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
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."
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
a positive step towards a state of greater harmony and
happiness, which will be closer to God. And perhaps to
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
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
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
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
"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
"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:
If we synthesize this with
the Shla's concept, the word emet can be read in acrostic
alef representing the first letter of or, light (first
phase of creation),
mem representing the first letter of mavet, death (second
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.
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
What is the meaning of the
The Creator alone knows His reasons; life and death have
the same trajectory in His life. Every word of Psalm 23
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
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.
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.
(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
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."
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
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