by Carol Blatter - July 3, 2015

This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, is what I call a patchwork of themes and stories. A common thread, especially with the murder of Zimri and Cozbi, and the daughters of Zelophehad’s right to inherit property, is about fairness. What is fair and who shall make this determination? There are many unanswered questions here, spaces, for each one of us to explore, consider, review, and conclude for ourselves.

1. We begin with Pinchas who murdered Zimri, an Israelite, and Cozbi, a Midianite, first mentioned at the end of last week’s Torah parashah, Balak. He murdered them because of an immoral act between an Israelite and a Midianite having sexual relations. Pinchas’ solo decision to murder them was made without consulting a higher authority even though he could have pursued other legal channels to do so.

There is similar evidence early in the book of Exodus, parashat Yitro (Jethro), where Jethro advises his son-in-law, Moses, to appoint magistrates and judges to assist him in governing and administering justice to the people. Also in the book of Numbers, parashat Sh’lach L’cha, there is an example of a man gathering wood on Shabbat.Those who found him as he was gathering wood brought him before Moses, Aaron, and the whole community before being judged to be put to death.

I wonder what God was thinking when he honored Pinchas with the admission to priesthood for murdering Zimri and Cozbi? A troubling space in Torah. I disagree with God’s decision.

So what do we learn from the Pinchas story?
a) Not every decision is fair.
b) There is no universal standard for fairness.
c) We are responsible for our own behavior.
d) We need to control our yetzer ha-ra, our evil inclination.

2. Later in the parashah, we read about the daughters of Zelophehad. Here, five daughters who had no brothers and no male heirs pleaded with Moses to inherit the land left by their father. Up until this time, only men were allowed to inherit property. These five clever and assertive daughters were strategic planners who together figured out the very best time to go before Moses to successfully plead their case, noted in commentary. This was a landmark achievement for gender equality and property ownership. I wonder why Moses asked God first before making this decision. Would it have been possible for Moses to make an independent decision without consulting God? Another space in Torah.

I believe that these two portions in Pinchas are juxtaposed to teach us about fairness. When is it and when is it not? And who decides? It is time for us to assess how fair we are in all our relationships with others, in our day-to-day decision making, and in all matters of business.

It is typical for our Jewish people to never stop questioning, filling in the spaces, turning thoughts over and over, thinking outside the box, reconsidering, and re-evaluating. In this manner, not only do our brains successfully work overtime but we also affirm our partnership with God to make this a better world (tikkun olam). We all have a stake in what happens to our people.

Another thought: how uncomfortable are we when we disagree with God? I am.

Shabbat Shalom.