Phinehas - weekly Torah portion

The “Phinehas” portion of the Torah is interesting because seemingly it contains many disjoint topics. There is a reference to the zeal of Phinehas who kills two to stop a plague that has killed twenty four thousand. This zeal of Phinehas is so shocking that God, in return responds, “Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.” There is a dividing of land between the tribes of the Israelites, and it is done in a manner such that “the larger group you shall increase their inheritance, and to the smaller group you shall diminish their inheritance.” Then comes the is of the law of inheritance brought forward by the daughters of Zelophehad. The result is a fundamental change in the law so that “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.” And then, “If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers.” There is a whole section discussing the laws for offerings on every day of the week, every Shabbat, the first day of each month and the various holy days throughout the year. No doubt these are a handful of matters, each having its own importance, each with its own interpretations; nevertheless we ought to find a way to combine them, somehow, into a single theme.

It is therefore that I think that we need to look at all these matters as a whole, identify a thread joining them together. I think that what is common here is the drive towards change. What was is not what is going to be. Phinehas in his zeal kills people and the covenant he receives is a covenant of peace. The splitting of the territory is not simply an inheritance issue that goes back to the sons of Jacob but rather takes into account the need of each tribe based on a census that took place in real-time. This is also the case with the daughters of Zelophehad. The law of the time does not agree with what they perceive to be justice but they come forward to challenge the system. They bring a new point of view which justifies a radical change for that time but that is required in order to address reality. The laws of offerings are brought there before us but here we know that radical change is yet to come. That happened as a result of severe destruction that happened, according to traditions a couple of millennia ago with the destruction of the Second Temple. As a result the ritual of offerings ceased to exist and it was replaced by a radically new concept. We therefore find in the portion of the Torah the seeds of change, sometimes change in progress. Even which we may perceive as static and unchangeable may be changed. It will have to reflect the spirit of the time if we like it or not.

Such spirit of change was not, unfortunately, part of what minister Miri Regev has published this past week on her Facebook page where she wrote, “… my conscious bothered me. I could not approve the Wall understandings in a way that would have changed the world’s order. The demand of the Reform to make the Kotel into a prayer place where man and women pray together, is unacceptable to me and to our tradition… every person can visit the Kotel and pray there… as long as this is done with respect to the place and our tradition. We returned to the holiest of our places not to put it down.” Really?! World order?! Unacceptable to our tradition?! Is the prayer of man and women in unity not respectful of the place?! Rabbi Meir Azari published this last Thursday an article in Yedioth Aharonot, where he is justifiably annoyed, saying “Regev, who laments on the cultural exclusion of the north African and Eastern Jews, suffers from the very same syndrome… She basically says: ‘I shall determine what will be sung here, in the land of your fathers, I will decide what shall be played in theaters and displayed in museums, and I shall also phrase your prayer books as well as your tradition.’”

From the Torah portion of “Phinehas” we learn that we must challenge the system, even when confronted by the likes of minister Miri Regev that has worldly ways that she decided to associate with. These are those world orders that discriminate against women, who do not want to hear their voices, who are racist, and separate between us both at life and death. The world order of the Kotel did include, not that long ago women and men praying side-by-side, and there are pictures to prove that. The minister simply denies the actual truth for immediate political gain. In the spirit of this week’s portion of the Torah we will continue to demand change. We put forward this demand to prime minister Netanyahu. If he really desires to represent the Jewish nation on any issue he must pull himself out of the dubious political expediency and implement not only the agreement on the Kotel, but also make significant changes to recognize non-orthodox marriages, divorces, Kashruth, conversions, mikvahs and more. He has still a few moments of grace in history to do so, and the sooner the better.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 6 July 2018, 24 Tamuz, 5778

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