S.A.L.T. - Parashat Pinchas 5780 / 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
Motzaei Shabbat
            The Torah in Parashat Pinchas presents the obligations of the temidin u-musafin – the standard public sacrifices offered in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  The tamid sacrifice was offered twice each day of the year, every morning and afternoon, and an additional musaf sacrifice was offered on special days – Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and holidays.  The daily tamid consisted of just one sheep in the morning and another in the afternoon (28:3-4), whereas the musafin were far more elaborate, consisting of a series of different animals.  The notable exception is Shabbat, whose musaf sacrifice consisted of just two sheep, in addition to the sheep of the tamid sacrifice.
            This unique feature of the Shabbat musaf offering – its simplicity, and resemblance to the tamid – may possibly affect its nature.  Rav Avraham Noach Garboz, in his Minchat Avraham (Menachot 49a), observes that the Rambam appears to allude to a distinctive nature of the Shabbat musaf sacrifice.  In the introduction to his Hilkhot Temidin U-musafin, where the Rambam lists the various mitzvot discussed in this section, the Rambam mentions each musaf sacrifice, stating simply that the Torah requires offering these sacrifices.  The exception is the mitzva of the musaf sacrifice on Shabbat, in reference to which the Rambam writes that the mitzva requires “le-hosif shenei kevasim…be-Shabbat” – “to add two sheep…on Shabbat.”  This might suggest that on Shabbat, the mitzva is to add two sheep onto the sheep of the tamid sacrifice.  Whereas on Rosh Chodesh and Yom Tov, the mitzva is to offer a series of sacrifices besides the tamid, on Shabbat, the mitzva is to add onto the tamid.
            Rav Garboz proceeds to suggest two possibilities as to the practical ramifications of this distinction.  First, he suggests, we might conclude that there is no significance to the sequence of the sacrifices on Shabbat.  Normally, the daily tamid is offered before any other sacrifice.  However, since the musaf sacrifice is simply the addition of two sheep to the tamid, perhaps the first sheep offered in the morning will count as the tamid offering, even if it was offered with the intention of being the musaf.  Since the musaf obligation on Shabbat is defined as simply adding two sheep, the sheep for the tamid and musaf sacrifices are all one and the same.  Hence, the first sheep will always count as the tamid, regardless of the intent.  Secondly, Rav Garboz adds, even if one does not accept the first possibility, it could be suggested that the musaf offering on Shabbat is contingent upon the offering of the tamid.  Since the requirement on Shabbat is to add onto the tamid, by definition, this obligation takes effect only once a sheep has been offered as the tamid sacrifice.  If no tamid is offered, then there is no requirement to offer a musaf, since the musaf is defined as an addition to the tamid.
            On this basis, Rav Garboz suggests explaining why the Rambam (Hilkhot Temidin U-musafin 7:1) mentions the requirement to offer the tamid before the musaf in the context of Rosh Chodesh, but not in reference to Shabbat, the time when this halakha is most frequently applicable.  On Shabbat, according to either of the two theories advanced above, this halakha is entirely irrelevant.  According to the first possibility, the first sheep is always going to count as the tamid, regardless of intent, so there is never any possibility of offering the musaf before the tamid.  And according to the second theory, the musaf sacrifice on Shabbat, by definition, cannot be offered until after the offering of the tamid.  Since the musaf sacrifice on Shabbat is defined as an addition to the tamid, there is no requirement to offer it until after the tamid.  Therefore, regardless of the general halakha requiring offering the tamid before the musaf, there would be no purpose in offering the musaf on Shabbat first.  For this reason, perhaps, the Rambam made no mention of this rule in the context of the Shabbat musaf offering, and he introduced it in reference to the next most frequent musaf – the musaf of Rosh Chodesh.
            Parashat Pinchas tells of the request made by the five daughters of Tzelofchad to receive their deceased father’s portion in the Land of Israel.  As Tzelofchad left no sons, and the territory of Eretz Yisrael was going to be distributed among the men of Benei Yisrael, these five women feared that their father’s share would be lost.  They therefore approached Moshe and asked to receive the share that would have gone to their father.  Moshe consulted with God, who spoke to Moshe and announced, “Kein benot Tzelofchad doverot” – “Tzelofchad’s daughters speak correctly” (27:7).  God proceeded to instruct Moshe to allot Tzelofchad’s share to his daughters, and to teach Benei Yisrael that if a man dies and leaves behind only daughters, then they inherit his estate.
            Rav Chaim of Volozhin is cited as offering a creative explanation for why God introduced His response to Moshe by affirming, “Kein benot Tzelofchad doverot” – “Tzelofchad’s daughters speak correctly.”  The Talmud Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 3:8) establishes that when a judge presiding over a case announces his decision, he must first review the claims of both litigants.  This is inferred from the famous case brought to King Shlomo involving a baby and two women, each insisting that the baby was hers.  Before announcing his decision, Shlomo briefly reviewed each woman’s claim (Melakhim I 3:23), and the Yerushalmi teaches that this establishes a protocol for judges to follow.  The reason behind this halakha is clear – the judge needs to assure both litigants that he heard and properly understood their claims.  This assurance is critical in order for them to feel confident that a correct decision was reached.
By the same token, Rav Chaim explains, before God announced His decision vis-à-vis the question posed by Tzelofchad’s daughters, He made it clear that He heard their claim.  He reviewed to Moshe their argument, and then expressed His consent.  According to Rav Chaim of Volozhin, this is the meaning of the introductory pronouncement, “Kein benot Tzelofchad doverot.”  God was, in effect, saying, “I listened to them very carefully, I understood what they are saying, and I agree.”
Whenever we engage with other people, we need to listen carefully to what they say, and, just as importantly, we need to make it clear to them that we are listening to them carefully.  Sometimes, in the course of conversation, we spend too much time thinking about what we are going to say that we do not pay proper attention to our interlocutor.  The announcement of “Kein benot Tzelofchad doverot” reminds us to listen to people attentively and doing our best to understand what they are saying before we respond.
            The final section of Parashat Pinchas discusses the tamidin u-musafin – the standard public sacrifices, including the daily tamid offering and the additional musaf offering brought on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and the holidays (Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot).  God introduces this section by commanding Moshe to instruct Benei Yisrael that they must ensure to maintain the sacrificial order “be-moado” – “in its time” (28:2).  At first glance, this verse introduces the entire section, commanding that we must ensure to follow the schedule of sacrifices, and offer each sacrifice “be-moado” – at the time when it is to be offered: the tamid sacrifice each day, and each musaf sacrifice on the day it is required (e.g. Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh).
            The Gemara, however, in a number of places (Pesachim 77a, Menachot 72b), explains this verse as referring specifically to the tamid sacrifice.  The word “be-moado,” the Gemara comments, emphasizes that the daily tamid offering is brought even on Shabbat, and even if the nation is in a state of tum’a (impurity).  These are occasions when we might have intuitively assumed that the tamid sacrifice should be offered, and thus the Torah emphasizes that the tamid must be sacrificed “be-moado” – “in its time,” even under these circumstances.
            Rashi, too, interprets this introductory verse as referring specifically to the tamid.  Commenting on the word “be-moado,” Rashi writes, “Every day is the occasion [mo’ed] of the temidin.”  According to Rashi, then, the command to ensure to offer the sacrifices “be-moado” means that we must see to it to offer the daily sacrifice on its occasion – meaning, every day.
            The use of the term “mo’ed” in reference to each day might at first strike us as unusual.  This word is commonly associated with special occasions, with special holidays which we observe once a year.  Here, however, the Torah uses the word “mo’ed” in reference to each and every day of the year, and each and every day of our lives.  This might teach us that indeed, we are to make each and every day a special occasion.  Every ordinary, routine day is a “mo’ed,” a special time, that requires its own “offering,” its own accomplishment.  We should never look upon any day as plain and ordinary.  Each day of our lives is special, laden with unique opportunities for us to seize, opportunities which will not present themselves at any other time.
            Parashat Pinchas begins with God announcing to Moshe that He would be rewarding Moshe’s great-nephew, Pinchas, who ended the plague that had struck Benei Yisrael as a result of the sin of Ba’al Pe’or.  As we read in the final verses of the previous parasha, Parashat Balak, God unleashed the plague to punish the nation for having relationships with the women of Moav and worshipping Moav’s deity.  Pinchas ended the plague by slaying a public violator – Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon.  God announced to Moshe that Pinchas would be rewarded by attaining the status of kohen, a status which he would then bequeath to his descendants, for all time.
            The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 21:1) makes a famous but enigmatic remark regarding God’s announcement of Pinchas’ reward: “Be-din hu she-yitol et sekharo” – literally, “It is only right that he should receive his reward.”  Many different interpretations have been offered for this vague Midrashic passage.
            Rav Zev Wolf Einhorn, in his commentary to Midrash Rabba (Peirush Ha-Maharzu), offers an insightful explanation, suggesting that the word “be-din” refers to the middat ha-din – the Almighty’s “attribute of justice.”  Many of the mitzvot we perform, Rav Einhorn writes, are worthy of being rewarded only by virtue of the middat ha-rachamim – God’s “attribute of mercy.”  Often, our mitzva observance is either deficient or driven by less-than-sincere motives, such that according to the strict, unyielding standards of the middat ha-din, we do not truly deserve reward.  But when Pinchas committed his act to end the plague, he knowingly risked his life.  He understood full well that Zimri might try killing him in self-defense, and that Zimri enjoyed the support of many among Benei Yisrael, who might rise to kill Pinchas to protect Zimri.  By preparing to sacrifice his own life, Pinchas made it very clear that he acted with pure sincerity, and without any ulterior motives.  Hence, the Midrash comments, “be-din hu she-yitol et sekharo” – he deserved reward even according to the strict standards of the middat ha-din.
            Before we pride ourselves over our noble actions, we must ensure to carefully examine our intentions and motivations.  We need to ask ourselves, honestly, whether we perform these actions out of a sincere desire to serve God and to fulfill His will, or if our intentions are less pure, and we are driven by selfish motives and interests.  The litmus test, very often, is the level of effort and sacrifice we are investing or prepared to invest.  If the act we perform does not entail much work or sacrifice, then there is a greater chance that it is driven by insincere motives.
            At the same time, however, we must remember that our actions are evaluated both by the middat ha-din, and by the middat ha-rachamim.  Even if our deeds fall far from perfection, they still have great value.  Even if the middat ha-din won’t give us credit, the middat ha-rachamim will.  As Rashi writes in his commentary to the very first verse of the Torah, God created the world with a delicate balance between strict justice and compassion.  From the outset, He did not expect or demand perfection, and created a system of compassionate judgment.  We are to strive to perfect our conduct to the point where it meets even the rigorous standards of the middat ha-din – but to also recognize that we will not always meet those standards, and that God cherishes every act of goodness we perform, even when our intentions are less than perfectly sincere.
            The opening verses of Parashat Pinchas tell of God’s announcement of Pinchas’ reward for ending a plague which God had sent upon Benei Yisrael because of their illicit relationships with the women of Moav and their worship of Moav’s idol.  Pinchas zealously killed a leading figure in Am Yisrael who committed a public sinful act, thereby bringing an abrupt end to the plague which had already taken the lives of 24,000 members of the nation.  God informed Moshe that Pinchas would be duly rewarded “tachat asher kinei l-Eilokav” – “on account of his having acting zealously for his God” (25:13).
            Rav Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam of Shinova, in Divrei Yechezkel, finds it significant that God speaks of Pinchas acting zealously “l-Eilokav” – for “His God,” as opposed to simply saying that he acted zealously for God.  To explain this nuance, the Divrei Yechezkel notes that Pinchas was the only one among Benei Yisrael to decide to avenge God’s honor during this unfortunate incident.  Nobody else – not even Moshe – reacted with such a drastic measure.  Apparently, the Divrei Yechezkel writes, only Pinchas was suited for such an action.  Much of what is expected of us as members of Am Yisrael is expected of us all; our basic halakhic responsibilities are shared among us all, and are common to all members of Am Yisrael.  However, beyond our shared religious obligations, we are each entitled and expected to chart our specialized course, to find our unique path in the service of God and our unique contribution to our nation and to the world.  It is with this awareness, of the need to actualize one’s unique, individual potential, that Pinchas courageously acted.  He was not deterred by the fact that nobody else thought to resort to such a measure, because he felt that he was uniquely suited for this role – to avenge God’s honor in this drastic manner.
            On this basis, the Divrei Yechezkel suggests an explanation for why Pinchas is said to have acted zealously “for his God.”  Pinchas acted out of a sense of his personal duty, with an awareness of his unique mission assigned to him by God.  We all have a shared, collective relationship with the Almighty, together as members of Am Yisrael, but we also have a unique relationship with God, which is molded by our distinct qualities, characters and experiences.  We need to have the discipline to act for “our God,” to serve God together with the rest of Am Yisrael, but we must also have the courage to act “l-Eilokav,” to forge our unique, personal relationship with the Almighty, and serve Him according to our individual talents and potential.
            The opening verses of Parashat Pinchas tell of the reward which God told Moshe he would grant to Pinchas, whose act of zealotry ended the plague which would have otherwise annihilated Benei Yisrael.  God first informed Moshe that Pinchas’ act effectively saved the nation from eradication, and then commanded, “Therefore, say that I am hereby granting him [Pinchas] My covenant of peace” (25:12).
            The Ramban noted that God did not instruct Moshe to tell Pinchas that He is granting Him this reward, but rather to simply “say” that He would be rewarding Pinchas.  Apparently, the Ramban writes, the command was for Moshe to make this announcement to the people, and not to Pinchas.  They were to be told that God was rewarding Pinchas.  The Ramban explains that since Pinchas was rewarded with “berit kehunat olam” – the status of kohen which he would bequeath to his descendants for eternity, this information needed to be conveyed to the entire nation.  God commanded Moshe to notify Benei Yisrael that Pinchas and his descendants have now been elevated to the status of kohanim.
            Additionally, however, this command might be understood in light of the Midrash’s famous remark, cited by Rashi (25:11), that the people fiercely condemned Pinchas for his act.  Pinchas made the controversial decision to kill a prominent leader of the nation while he was committing a public sinful act with a Midyanite woman, and the people sharply criticized him.  They questioned his piety, arguing that he was not so righteous himself that he could assume the right to protest sinful conduct.  As the people scorned and mocked Pinchas, God turned to Moshe and commanded him to announce to the nation that God approved of Pinchas’ reaction, and would be rewarding him.
            This approach is taken by Rav Yaakov Mecklenberg, in his Ha-ketav Ve-ha-kabbala, where he adds a novel reading of this verse.  God commanded Moshe, “…emor” – which is commonly understood as, “say,” or “declare.”  Rav Mecklenberg, however, notes that the root a.m.r. can mean not only “say,” but also “extol.”  In Sefer Devarim (26:17), Moshe tells Benei Yisrael, “Et Hashem he’emarta hayom,” which Rav Mecklenberg explains to mean, “You have extolled the Lord this day.”  And in the next verse, Moshe says, “V-Hashem he’emirekha hayom” – “And the Lord has extolled you this day.”  Rav Mecklenberg also cites the verse in Tehillim (66:3), “Imru l-Eilokim ma nora ma’asekha,” which is commonly translated as, “Say to God: How awesome are Your works!”  However, based on the context, Rav Mecklenberg contends that this verse urges us not simply to “say” or “pronounce” that God’s works are magnificent, but rather to give praise to the Almighty through this pronouncement.
            By the same token, Rav Mecklenberg boldly suggests interpreting the word “emor” here in Parashat Pinchas as referring to praise.  In response to the disdain which the people expressed towards Pinchas, God commanded Moshe to counter their condemnations with words of praise to extol and celebrate Pinchas’ act, which had the effect of saving the nation from annihilation.
            The Torah in Parashat Pinchas introduces the mitzva of the korban tamid – the daily sacrifice which was to be offered each morning and afternoon in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  In the midst of its discussion of this obligation, the Torah adds a curious description of the tamid sacrifice: “A daily burnt-offering, which was performed at Mount Sinai…” (28:6).  For some reason, the tamid is depicted as the sacrifice which was offered at Mount Sinai.
            Rashi explains that this hearkens back to the seven-day miluim period, when the Mishkan and the kohanim were formally consecrated back at Sinai.  As we read in Sefer Shemot (29:38-42), the miluim included the offering of a daily tamid sacrifice, and so Rashi explains that the Torah here commands offering this sacrifice each day just as it was offered then.  Rashi then cites a different explanation from Torat Kohanim (Parashat Tzav), stating that the Torah refers here to the sacrifices that were offered at the time of Matan Torah, as we read in Sefer Shemot (24:5): “He [Moshe] send the Israelite youth to offer burnt-sacrifices…”  The Torah links the daily tamid with these offerings, Rashi explains, to instruct that the blood of the daily sacrifices must be collected in a vessel, just as was done at the time of Matan Torah (“Va-yasem ba-aganot” – Shemot 24:6).
            Seforno explains that this verse introduces the next verse, which adds the requirement to include a nesekh – wine libation – along with the tamid animal sacrifice.  At the time of Matan Torah, Seforno writes, libations were not required; it was only after the sin of the golden calf that God required more elaborate sacrifices (and an elaborate Mishkan).  Therefore, the Torah here describes the tamid as the sacrifice which was offered at the time of Matan Torah at Sinai, and then adds that it must also include the libation.
            A much different approach is taken by Ibn Ezra, in his Peirush Ha-arokh to Sefer Shemot (29:42), where he controversially asserts that Benei Yisrael did not offer sacrifices in the wilderness once they journeyed from Mount Sinai.  Sacrifices were offered after the Mishkan’s construction at Sinai until the nation departed, and they were not offered again until Benei Yisrael crossed the Jordan River into the Land of Israel.  Ibn Ezra draws numerous proofs to support his theory, including the verse here in Parashat Pinchas.  This command was issued at the very end of Benei Yisrael’s sojourn in the wilderness (immediately following Yehoshua’s formal appointment as successor of Moshe, who died soon thereafter), just before they crossed into Eretz Yisrael, and God instructed to offer daily sacrifices just as they had briefly done back at Sinai, 39 years earlier. 
Ibn Ezra draws further proof from the fact that Benei Yisrael journeyed through an uninhabited an uninhabitable desert, and it is thus inconceivable that they had enough animals, oil and wine needed for all the various offerings that are normally required.  He also cites the verse in Sefer Amos (5:25), in which God asks Benei Yisrael, “Did you, the House of Israel, present to me sacrifices and meal offerings for forty years in the desert?!” – indicating that Benei Yisrael did not offer sacrifices in the desert, and the commands regarding the sacrifices were applicable only at Sinai and after Benei Yisrael entered the Land of Israel.