You know those movies that tell multiple independent stories and then bring them together at the end? There’s a teenage romance, a community golf tournament, and a jewelry store that’s filing for bankruptcy. It’s not until the last third of the movie that you find out the teenage boy’s family owns the jewelry store, and the teenage girl’s grandfather is a retired pro golfer who rescues the other family by buying the jewelry store and turning it into a golf shop. This sounds like a ridiculous all-over-the-map storyline . . . until you hear what happens in this week’s parshah.
Our parshah this week, Pinchas, bounces from event to event; you’ll get dizzy trying to keep up. We begin with the story of Pinchas (identified as Aaron’s grandson) and the extreme action he took against those that defied the prohibition of idolatry. Then we move to the daughters of Zelophechad (Joseph’s great-great-great-grandson), who want to inherit land after their father’s death because he had no sons. Then Joshua is appointed Moshe’s successor, and we end with the sacrifices we are to make for Rosh Hodesh and the holidays.
Looking individually at each of these events, they might seem disparate. Looking at the text as a whole, they actually are tied together by a search for balance in the Israelite nation. Pinchas reacts to the idolatry out of anger, allowing his emotions to get the best of him and his rage to take over. For this reason, the commentators teach that the yud in his name is written smaller than the other letters because by acting rashly he diminished God’s name. However, Pinchas is appointed a priest, a designation which requires responsibility and an even-tempered leadership, helping Pinchas balance his emotions.
By reading the situation and speaking up at the right time, the daughters of Zelophechad have their inheritance needs met. In doing so, they are able to strike a unique balance between tradition and modernity, one of the first instances of this in the Torah.
Joshua is described as Ruach Elohim, the spirit of God. As the incoming leader, he is calm and gentle, and just as Moshe needed Aaron to balance out his insecurities, Joshua will serve as the counterbalance to Pinchas.
Finally, we receive instruction about the variety of sacrifices we are to make for holidays and Rosh Hodesh. Each instance where we learn about how to distinguish our celebratory times is a reminder to find balance between work and play.
Is the idea of striking an appropriate balance sound familiar? The balance depicted in Pinchas isn’t just a message for the Israelites; it’s also a guiding principle of conservative Judaism. The USCJ’s vision statement invites us to create a “dynamic Judaism that is learned and passionate, authentic and pluralistic, joyful and accessible, egalitarian and traditional.” There’s balance across the board.
May each of us this Shabbat discover new ways to strike the right balance in our lives. That’s how our myriad stories will come together.