Weekly Reading Insights:
Pinchas 5779



Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Pinchas - 17 Tammuz 5779 /July 20

Torah: Numbers 25:10-30:1
Haftorah: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 (1st of 3 "Haftorahs of Punishment")
Pirkei Avot:  Chapter 6

Pinchas is the 8th Reading out of 10 in Numbers and it contains 7853 letters, in 1887 words, in 168 verses

Pinchas  receives priesthood as reward for his zealous act (see end of Balak) of killing a tribal prince who acted immorally. After that is the census of all the tribes followed by instructions for dividing the Land of Israel according to families. The five daughters of Tzelofchad came to Moshe saying that their father died leaving no male heir to inherit his portion of land. G-d commands that these women be given their father’s portion and also commands what should happen in all future cases where a direct heir is not available. Before his death, G-d tells Moshe to view the Land from Mt. Avarim, as he will not enter it; instead, Yehoshua, his main pupil and attendant, is publicly commissioned as future leader of the Jews. The parsha concludes listing details concerning daily, Shabbat, new month, and holiday offerings.

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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We are finally at a point in the Torah narrative after the many challenges to G-d and Moshe during the forty-year sojourn in the desert when the Jews are making their final preparations to enter Israel. In this week's portion, Pinchas, we read of the discussion about how to divide the land. G-d instructs Moshe (Bamidbar 26:52-55) that the land should be divided fairly. The larger tribes should receive more land and the smaller tribes, less. Nevertheless, this will be borne out by a lottery (goral) where Elazar the high priest will randomly choose two notes from twenty-four (twelve tribes and twelve land divisions), one with a tribe's name and one with their allotted portion. At the same time, the "voice of the lottery" would simultaneously announce the Heavenly decision.

It was clear that the choices were from heaven. Entering the land, where the food would not come from heaven, the water would not come from a miraculous well and the heavenly directed clouds would not protect them, is comparable to a person fulfilling his mission in the world. Entering the land of Israel was comparable to our present lives - an experience of having to provide food, water, protection and all our material needs through our own efforts. What can we learn from these verses that teach us that the land was divided by a lottery, (ach b'goral)?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us (Collected Talks, vol. 2, pg. 347) that just as each tribe was given their portion by Divine direction, so too every Jewish person has a particular commandment that is their commandment. They have a soul connection to this mitzvah and both consciously and unconsciously they care about it more and are more careful about doing it. Just like each tribe received its portion, so each Jew receives his or her particular "portion" in serving G-d. Just as the land was divided by lottery, which is higher than reason, so also a person's particular portion is higher than his intellectual reasoning or physical concerns.

This idea is developed by Schneur Zalman of Liadi (known as the Alter Rebbe 1745-1812) in his Chassidic foundation text, Tanya (Holy LettersIggeret HaKodesh, the end of Letter 7) that the individual light that comes to each soul to help it fulfil its mission is not something based on worldly criteria. What each soul receives is what arose in the Divine consciousness at the beginning of creation. Similarly, to how we understand a lottery, it is actually G-d choosing what the outcome will be.

In the Rebbe's letters (vol. 18, pg. 28, quoted in Likras Shabbos) the Rebbe brings out another point. "While almost everyone wants direction in what to do in their lives, especially in their spiritual lives, most people desire this direction to be in a way that they choose themselves, that they feel connected to. There is a problem with this view. In a number of places, the teachings of Chassidut make it very clear that not only does each person have their particular commandment to which they are more spiritually connected, but all the spiritual energy of all of their other spiritual work in Torah study and commandment observance are elevated through that particular gateway. Not only that, it is also through this gateway that all of the positive energy to fulfil their mission in the world comes down!

What is even more important to understand, is that this particular commandment (and the gateway it creates) may not be one of the "foundation" commandments, like Shabbos or charity. And not even one of the more obviously critical commandments, like keeping kosher or putting on tefillin. We learn this from the Talmud (Shabbat 119) that Abuch's particular commandment was tzitzit. This is a commandment for men only, to wear certain fringes, only on a four-cornered garment, which is worn only during the day. Technically there is no obligation to wear such a garment, in which case there is no requirement for tzitzit. Therefore, it may be considered a mitzvah of less gravity.

It could well be that a person's special commandment is something that, in the world of commandments seems relatively modest, yet this is the commandment that this person must imbue with special effort and that defines all of his or her other spiritual work.

The question now is - how do I know which is my particular commandment? For some it might one in which we have a great interest or a feeling of special connection. In many cases it is where, by Divine providence, we find ourselves personally involved. For one person it might be teaching, for another counselling and for a third communal work."

In the Rebbe's letter (source above) he answered someone who asked this question as follows: "In your case and the case of your colleagues, at this time, your gateway is in the area of... So automatically, it is in this area that you have to be even more careful, and pay more attention, and you will thereby draw down more success in all of your spiritual endeavours and also in your physical endeavours. From all of this", the Rebbe concluded, "I think it can be understood that the answer to your question about whether or not to leave your communal responsibilities [and move on to something else] is, that according to the above, it would be foolhardy".

In his talk from Purim 1962 the Lubavitcher Rebbe told the following story. A very learned chassid of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef from Bishenkovitz, studied for years to become the rabbi of a community. He advanced quickly through all of his studies and was ready for an appointment. He went to the Alter Rebbe to ask how he should proceed to find the right position and the Rebbe told him, "For the good of your soul you should become a wagon driver." He had learned day and night for years to be a rabbi and the Rebbe told him for the sake of his soul to be a wagon driver. For ten years he put off the move until one day he was offered a position in an important community as its rabbi. He understood the time had come. He went to the local tavern where the wagon drivers congregated and asked them to teach him the trade. They mocked him saying he was would be better kashering vessels (ga'ala) then driving a wagon (agala). One of the drivers had mercy on him and showed him how to attach the horses to the wagon and how to tar the wheels. The tail of the horse almost took out his eye. Being new to all of this, and to physical labor in general, R' Yosef became filthy. On his return home his wife started crying and the neighbors were saying that he had lost his mind. He confided in his wife what the Rebbe had instructed him and she immediately supported him and suggested that she sell her jewelry to buy a horse and wagon.

Years passed and R' Yosef's life changed from that of a Torah scholar to a driver, taking people from town to town and maintaining his horse and his wagon. One day in one of the hotels where he would pass the night between trips, the innkeeper approached him with a Jewish manager of one of the local non-Jewish noblemen who need transport. R' Yosef agreed but on the condition that they only leave after prayers in the morning. The Jew made a negative comment but agreed. In the middle of the night the Jew woke up and heard R' Yosef saying Tikkun Chatzot, a prayer of repentance connected to the destruction of the Temple and the current exile that we, the Jewish people, are in. The Jew was struck by R' Yosef's holiness and the emotional melodies of his prayers. Later in the morning he saw R' Yosef praying with great enthusiasm. He began to remember the life he had left behind, his father and how he had prayed. He had abandoned his wife and children in order to reach his dream of material wealth. All of a sudden he sincerely regretted the life he had chosen and asked R' Yosef to help him find a path to return to his Jewish roots. R' Yosef took him to the Mitteler Rebbe (DovBer of Lubavitch 1773-1827 - the Alter Rebbe had already passed on). R' Yosef knew he had fulfilled his mission and was now permitted to find a position as a rabbi.

The Rebbe said that we learn from this story that we have each been brought to this world for a purpose. The fact that we were brought here means that the world cannot have survived without our mission. Someone or something needs us. Each of us has to look around and figure out what the mission is.

Shabbat shalom, Shaul.

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Pinchas

one sample:

Mystical Classics
Between Forgiveness and Gift

From the Ohr HaChaim commentary by Rabbi Chaim (ben Moshe) ibn Attar

Pinchas could have acquired the priesthood either as an act of forgiveness or as a gift from G-d. In case of the former, we would understand that his deed prompted G-d to forgive him for having failed at the time to have himself anointed. If we see in his appointment now a gift from G-d, we view it as something entirely new.

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