Weekly Parsha: Pinchas' Zealotry and 600,000 Israelites
Last week’s Torah parsha was Pinchas. (Numbers 25:10-30:1)
Continuing from last week’s parsha, Balak, Pinchas begins with the conclusion of the story of the plague of Baal-peor (Numbers 25). Balak ends with the men of Israel falling prey to their lustful appetites for non-Isralite women.
They fornicate with them, marry them, and needless to say, Hashem is furious! He tells Moses to have the leaders impaled publicly, which leads to this Hollywood-esque finale (Numbers 25:6-9):
Just as Moses finishes telling Hashem’s orders to Israel’s officials, the Israelite Zimri son of Salu brings his Midianite woman, Cozbi daughter of Zur, to a chamber in view of Moses and everyone else around. They proceed to copulate in what has to be one of the most disgustingly public, brazen, and defiant sexual acts in human history. We can imagine Moses and those around him looking on, aghast.
But when Pinchas sees what is happening, he grabs a spear and stabs both Zimri and Cozbi in a single lunge.
And so, parshat Pinchas begins with Hashem praising Pinchas’ zealous (and impulsive) actions, bestowing upon him “My pact of friendship” (Numbers 26:12).
What are some of the implications of Pinchas’ actions? Rabbi Shmuel Bowman asks whether Pinchas’ actions were justified for the tribe’s security. Just how different is Pinchas from other violent zealots who act under God’s name?
Of course, the parsha is not limited strictly to Pinchas’ saga. There is a census in the parsha too—telling us there were 601,730 Israelite men between the ages of 20 and 60 at the time.
Rabbie Karen Deitsch wrote a fascinating essay, inspired by the expansive genealogy in the parsha, for the Jewish Journal.
After the description of the census, there is a remarkable biblical occurrence of the female plural conjugation as the daughters of Zelophedhad take their (eventually successful) demand for inheritance all the way to Moses and Hashem (Numbers 27). The Union for Reform Judaism goes further in-depth here.
In the end, the parsha rounds off with a summary of the Jewish calendar.
—Benjamin Schuman Stoler