Morning, Noon, and Night – Parshat Pinchas 5781

Want a great way to quickly get to know someone? Ask them to describe their ideal day. When Duncan and I were first dating, we discussed our “perfect days.” I challenged him to write up a whole itinerary. Where would he be? Who would he be with? What would the day look like from start to finish? And then I created an itinerary for mine. The elements in my perfect day always involve someplace near a body of water. I’m with my family enjoying the sun and the open sky, but I’ve also built in some alone time. The ideal day always begins and ends with me taking a long walk to set my intention for the day, and then reflect back on the day before bed, respectively.

Despite the fact that these ideal days almost always include some hypothetical components that may change with age, the morning and evening reflection is a constant. I am my most grounded self when I have those two touch points in my day. I think my attraction to the idea of starting and ending my days with a connection to the earth, to God, and to my body also offers some insight into my love of Judaism. 

Jewish living is structured around prayer – daily prayer – and that comes from our Torah portion this week, Pinchas. Parshat Pinchas begins with the story of Pinchas (identified as Aaron’s grandson) and the extreme action he took toward those who defied the prohibition against 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 Chodesh and the holidays.

This is a big, long, full section of Torah that walks us through conflict and resolution in multiple ways, and then ends with a recitation of how we might find balance and connection to God in celebration of holidays and daily moments. It lays out this structure according to sacrifices. Chapters 28 and 29 list the sacrifices for the daily offering, the new moon, the Passover offering, Shavuot, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret. Each one is delineated by what offerings are made, how we make them, and why they are important. 

The daily offering, the Tamid, the one which is our constant, is said to have been offered in the morning and at twilight. It is an offering that is funded by the people, not just the leaders or the rich, but one that is made by all of us together. When the Israelites were no longer able to practice daily sacrifice, the rabbis determined that prayer, the Amidah, would fulfill this obligation. That is to say that the sages couldn’t imagine a world without a daily interaction with God, both at the beginning and the ending of the day.

Parshat Pinchas is the reminder that each day needs grounding in holy purpose, whether it’s a formal Yizkor service or an hour gardening. But I challenge you to make it your job not necessarily to be the people of Israel in this comparison, but to be the Tamid, the constant. You keep alive the flame that ignites the holiness in the rest of our holy community.

Moral Courage – Parshat Pinchas 5780

If we’re supposed to be guided by our morals, what happens when one person’s (or community’s) morals conflict with another’s? We all have so much in common with each other, but these days we’re divided by extremes on every issue. If you bring up a particular topic, you risk the response of someone ready to shout it down, or, just as unhelpful, it’s met with confirmation bias, which means it will be interpreted according to other people’s preexisting beliefs, not seen as new information to consider.

Personally, my integrity comes from many places, but primarily from my Jewish traditions. The commandments of the Torah and the values of Jewish living guide me in my decision making and understanding of the world around me. This has been true of Jews living an observant life since the time of the Torah.

This week’s parshah, Pinchas, puts moral courage on display. 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 Chodesh and the holidays. 

Chapter 25, verses 17-18 read: “Assail the Midianites and defeat them – for they assailed you by the trickery they practiced against you – because of the affair of Peor.” Why were the Midianites against the Isarelites? We’re told it’s originally because the Israelites had different ways of worship from the other nations that surrounded them. But beyond that, the Israelites didn’t engage in hostile takeovers; they did not rape and pillage or even encourage each other to engage in dishonest acts to prove superior. They stood on a moral ground that made them stand out from everyone else. Because of this, other nations tried to trick and disadvantage the Israelites and pull them away from their moral compass.

Parshat Pinchas stands as a reminder that personal moral courage isn’t automatic. It takes hard work to build it up, and it’s almost always tested by those who lack similar convictions. It’s our responsibility as Jews to use that sense of justice we’ve built up for so long.

Your Heritage – Parshat Pinchas 5779

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When Duncan and I decided to get married, one of the questions we had to consider was what I would do about my last name. The traditional expectation (though not so much these days) was that I would take his name, making me “Mrs. Gilman” or “Rabbi Gilman.” However, as much as I love him and his family, something didn’t sit right with me about changing my name. My sister and I are the last two Posens of our generation, and we have no male cousins who would automatically carry on that name. Also, I became a rabbi largely because of the influence of my family. I grew up sitting in shul with my grandparents and celebrating holidays and virtually every Shabbat with my family. I am who I am, a Posen, because of that experience, and since all of my grandparents and my father had passed before my ordination, becoming “Rabbi Posen” was a way for me to honor their legacy and carry on our family name for one more generation.

So much of Jewish law focuses on the traditions of our forefathers, but this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, takes the first step in changing the standard. Parshat Pinchas begins with the story of Pinchas (identified as Aaron’s grandson) and the extreme action he took toward those who defied the prohibition against 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 Chodesh and the holidays.

The daughters of Zelophechad represent an interesting moment in the Bible. Traditionally, women were not guaranteed inheritance from their father’s estate. If a man died, his inheritance was for the sons. In this case, there were no surviving sons, and the daughters felt it was their right to receive their father’s estate. The daughters petition Moshe for this, and Moshe doesn’t know how to proceed. The daughters argue that by not receiving an inheritance, their father’s name will be wiped out. The ownership of land was more than monetary security; it was the security of their legacy and their place in the world.

So much of what we do in the world is tied to where we’ve come from. Whether land or legacy, we have an identity that shapes us and tells our story, and the Torah this week reminds us that that story is worth fighting for.

The Same, But Different – Parshat Pinchas 5778

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When I was pregnant with Matan, I heard many well-meaning reminders not to compare the two children. It is inevitable, though, that we look for similarities when we look at our children. Whether in the way they look (my two look exactly the same), the age at which they meet certain milestones (Matan is slightly faster in some respects), or their nature in general, I find it difficult to stop myself from noticing how they’re alike. The only problem is that all the tricks and parenting strategies I’ve honed with Shiri will fail on Matan, and I’ll be forced to remember that while they may look the same, they are completely different children.

This doesn’t just apply to parents. If you have a sibling, you have likely gone through this too. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of sitting in class on the first day of school, when a teacher reads your last name and then makes a comment about your older sibling who had the very same class. You’ve instantly gone from being an individual with your own identifying qualities to being linked to whatever behaviors and expectations – good or bad – the teacher associates with another member of your family.  

The Torah is full of stories of siblings and the wrongs or rights they’ve done to one another. We hear stories of sibling rivalries, betrayal, and support. Our parshah this week, Pinchas, is no exception. The Torah portion 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 who 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.  

During the recalling of the census, we learn the following:

Born to Pallu: Eliab. The sons of Eliab were Nemuel, and Dathan and Aviram. These are the same Dathan and Aviram, chosen in the assembly, who agitated against Moses and Aaron as part of Korach’s band when they agitated against the Lord.

We learned the story of Dathan and Aviram earlier in the Torah when they joined with Korach and caused a great deal of trouble. Suddenly, here in our parshah, we learn that there was a third brother, Nemuel.

This older brother didn’t join his younger brothers in their nefarious activities, which means we now have the narrative of three brothers, raised in the same environment and with the same parenting, who did not all turn out the same. Can you imagine Nemuel going to school and having people find out he’s the older brother of the two troublemakers?

This week’s parshah offers an interesting version of the nature versus nurture debate. We see that brothers can be similar biologically, yet have opposite values and leadership qualities. It’s a helpful reminder – whether with students, children, or siblings – not to rely on assumptions, but to judge each person on their own merit.  

 

Mystery Woman – Parshat Pinchas 5777

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I love learning about my family history. My grandparents all did a fairly decent job of remembering and recalling details about cousins, aunts, and uncles from generations back. They could pick up an old photograph and instantly recall the name of the person and how they were connected to the rest of the family. In some cases there were complicated histories behind the people and relationships in these photographs. And then there were always a few pictures that had a name written on them, but no one knew exactly whom that person was. I imagine many families are like this; there are pictures that tell the story of your family tree, and yet there are still one or two faces or names for which no one can remember the connection.

As Jews, the Torah is our family ancestry project, and throughout its text it shares stories of different generations and the relationships between the generations. This week’s parshah, Pinchas, is no different. We begin with the story of Pinchas (identified as Aaron’s grandson) and the extreme action he took against those who 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 Chodesh and the holidays.

For the most part, we know the history of our matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, and who they married and which children they mothered. However, one woman’s name stands out in the Torah without much background given. Certainly there are plenty of people who are only mentioned once, but the name Serach appears twice in the Five Books of Moses and again later in Prophets (Nevi’im). Yet her presence in both places remains a mystery. She is the woman you can’t quite identify in the picture.

In the Torah, Serach’s mention appears to be purely anecdotal, but she is also mentioned in Samuel 2, verse 16:

Then a wise woman called from the city, “Hear, hear! Please tell Joab, ‘Come here that I may speak with you.'”

It may not be obvious at first glance, but according to Rashi, Serach is alluded to as the isha chochma (wise woman) who challenges the general for not knowing the Torah’s rules for besieging a city.

While her exact role in our ancestral “family” and how she lived so long between these sections of biblical text are relatively unknown, Serach is nevertheless a wise woman and a part of our ancestry. There are plenty of well-known Torah stories we hear over and over again, year after year. Children and adults alike can recall Noah, Joseph, and Moshe in great detail. However, reading Parshat Pinchas this week I am reminded that an individual’s “fame” within the context of our history simply means we know their story. The people in the photographs whose names we do not know are just as important, though their stories may remain untold.