When reading this week’s parsha, we almost immediately note the dichotomy in the subject matter. The first half of the parsha deals with the aftermath of Pinchas’s zealotry as well as a preparations for and repercussions of the ultimate division of Eretz Yisrael when Bnei Yisrael enter the land. The preparations include a census, the command to divide the land based on a lottery system, and the exclusion of Shevet Levi from the division of the land. The repercussions include the complaint of Zlaphchad’s daughters, who fear that they will lose their family’s share of the land, and Hashem informing Moshe Rabbenu that he would not enter into the land and Moshe’s subsequent request that a successor be named so that Am Yisrael would not suffer from a leadership vacuum. The second half of the parsha deals with the various sacrifices that were to be brought on a daily basis as well as the musafin, the additional sacrifices which were brought on the various festivals.
In such a “busy’ parsha, it is easy to lose sight of an interesting and somewhat uncommon phenomena. The first half of the parsha is in fact driven by three different personalities, who, through the strength of their character in fact define the underlying focus of the parsha, mesirat nefesh for the nation and for the land. I am referring of course to Pinchas, Zlaphchad’s daughters (who we will treat as a single unit) and Yehoshua.
When we think about Pinchas’s actions, we generally think of him as a zealot who strikes down Zimri and his consort when they openly challenge the authority of Moshe Rabbenu and the Zekainim. In fact, the Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 9:7) specifically notes that Pinchas acted against the wishes of the sages (lo b’ratzon chachamim), and had Hashem not interceded by bestowing upon Pinchas the blessing of the Kehuna (25:13) they would even have excommunicated him. Rav Baruch Epstein in his commentary “Torah Temima” explains that technically an individual who has sexual relations with an Aramite women is liable to the death penalty, and if that penalty can not be administered by a beit din than it can be administered by a zealot. Nonetheless, we do not allow individuals to take the law into their own hands for the simple reason that we can never trust an individual’s motivations. Thus, had there been no open approbation from Gd Pinchas would have been excommunicated to prevent others from following in his footsteps.
This Divine approbation opens another way of looking at Pinchas. Many have commented (see, for example, the Ohr Hachayim or Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch) on the fact that it seems unnecessary for the Torah to have identified Zimri as the individual who had sinned by having sexual relations with the Midianite woman. Certainly it would have been sufficient to tell the story without “naming names”. In truth, had the sinner been a “commoner” the Torah very well might have skipped over identifying him. But the fact is that Zimri was the leader of the tribe of Shimon. That means that a new layer of difficulty was added to Pinchas’s task. Not only was he challenging the behavior of Am Yisrael, and not only was he trusting his zealous instinct against the wishes of the elders, but his target was a prince among the people. Surely Pinchas must have been an extraordinary personality to overcome these obstacles and to do what was required. It is difficult to imagine any action bearing greater testimony to the mesirat nefesh, the sense of personal sacrifice, which Pinchas brought to his life.
The ramifications of Pinchas’s act were far more far reaching than we might assume from a simple perusal of the passukim. The Torah tells us that Hashem bestows upon Pinchas both a covenant of Peace (Briti Shalom) and the covenant of everlasting Kehuna (Brit Kehunat Olam). Rav Simshon Rafael Hirsch points out that many people pursue peace by avoiding confrontation and in fact abandoning the field to people and ideologies which are at variance with what we believe in and what we know to be correct. That is a path which never leads to true peace. Pinchas instead chooses a path of confronting evil and eradicating it. The result is “my covenant of Peace”. Pinchas has reestablished the basis for peace between Am Yisrael and Hashem.
But Hashem also gives Pinchas the Kehuna. The Gemara in Zevachim (101b) discusses when this bracha was in fact fulfilled. One opinion states that it was after killing Zimri, as the simple reading of our parsha indicates. The second opinion says that this bracha only reaches fruition after Pinchas mediates between Bnei Gad and Reuven, who had built an alter outside of Eretz Yisrael and the other shevatim who objected and threatened to go to war over this issue. Based on our analysis we can suggest that the two issues are in fact linked. Only an individual who has shown himself to be true to his principles will be trusted by others. It is only such an individual who can make peace between warring factions. And finally, it is only such an individual, who merges personal integrity and mesirat nefesh with love of peace, who can truly merit Kehuna.
This idea of mesirat Nefesh characterizes Bnot Zlaphchad as well. In general, we have a tradition which suggests that the women of Am Yisrael felt a far stronger connection to Eretz Yisrael then their male counterparts did. This is demonstrated by the Medrash (Tanchuma 7, as quoted by Rashi 26:64) which notes that the women did join in the acceptance of the spies report and the subsequent rejection of Eretz Yisrael. In fact, the Midrash posits that it was only the men who died in the Midbar during the forty years that Hashem had decreed that Am Yisrael would spend there, and not the women. (This is also the basis for the famous statement of Klei Yakar in Parshat Shelach, when he suggests that had the spies been women rather than men that Chet HaMeraglim would never have happened.)
But do the actions of Bnot Zlaphchad in fact represent this tradition? Perhaps their motivation was merely financial? Why should they waive their rights to the family inheritance?
In his work, Kedushat Peshuto shel Mikra” Rav Yehuda Cooperman quotes the Netziv (Emek haNetziv Pinchas Pesikta 2) who deals with this question. The Netziv points out that the key to understanding the actions of Bnot Zlaphchad lies not in their question but rather in their insistence that they receive a portion in Eretz Yisrael. As members of shevet Menashe, Bnot Zlaphchad hailed from a tribe which had opted to receive half of their portion east of the Jordan River and the other half in Eretz Yisrael. Bnot Zlaphchad could have easily requested to remain outside of Ertetz Yisrael and to still receive their portion. However their love of Eretz Yisrael drove them to insist on a portion within the borders of the land. They preferred the future hope of a portion in Eretz Yisrael, to the immediate gain of inheriting in the captured lands of Sichon and Og.
Yehoshua too represents Mesirat Nefesh in all aspects of his life and above all for Eretz Yisrael. As a member of the meraglim, he chose to buck the trend and, together with Calev, he sought to sway the people from the path of the meraglim. Mesirat nefesh was also a cornerstone of his communal life. When Moshe sought a successor, Rashi (27:16) tells us that he hoped that one of his own sons would be chosen. But Hashem had other ideas. Yehoshua was more worthy, as he “never left the tent” (lo mash mitoch haohel”). He was thoroughly committed to his communal responsibilities and therefore never left Moshe Rabbenu’s side.
The Gemara in Megilla (14b) notes that while Yehoshua had no sons, he did have daughters. In light of what we have seen, might it not be reasonable to suggest that this was only appropriate? Who more than daughters could have reflected the level of mesirat hanefesh and love of the land that so characterized Yehoshua?