The importance of a unified community
Parshat Pinchas, Numbers 25:10-30:1
This parshah seems to be a hodgepodge of loosely connected or disconnected themes. The reward for Pinchas, the order to attack Midian (that actual attack is deferred to next week’s parshah), the census, instructions on dividing Eretz Yisrael, the Levite census, the daughters of Tzelafchad, inheritance laws, Moshe’s instructions about his death, Moshe’s request for a successor, Joshua chosen as successor, the daily offerings and finally the additional (Musaf) offerings for Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and the festivals. Is there something that connects these? Is there an overarching theme?
Based, in part, on the commentary of Or Hachaim on the connection between the appointment of Joshua and the offerings, we can suggest the following:
The offerings in this parshah are all communal offerings. Their purpose is the participation of the entire people in the holy temple service. This is the essence of the parshah. Every individual can become part of something much greater by joining the community. He now becomes a community person, he becomes communal. Pinchas stood in the breach, preventing the destruction of the entire people in the plague. He thus benefited the entire community. His reward was the blessing of peace — the concept of a unified community. He also united Israel with their Father in heaven. By uniting all the Jews through restoring their dignity, he also brought forth a sense of communal pride and morale. This fits well with being awarded priesthood. This was also the attribute of Aharon, his ancestor. Aharon loved peace and chased after it, but he was also the ultimate shliach tzibur, agent of the community, the communal man. Pinchas had proven that he deserved the covenant of peace and the covenant of eternal priesthood.
The iniquity of Midian was clearly their breakup of the communal spirit.
The census in parshahs Bemidbar emphasizes each individual. The census in this parshah emphasizes the families — a communal concept rather than an individual concept.
What was the purpose of all this? When Israel would enter the Land and inherit their separate properties, there would be some separatism. They needed to remember that they were parts of families, tribes and one nation of Klal Yisrael. The daughters of Tzelafchad showed this by insisting that the name of their family be preserved. They too would be part of the tzibur.
The force that binds the family unit is the woman, whether it is a mother or a daughter or sometimes a sister. Abraham was blessed with “everything,” says Chazal, a daughter named “Everything.” Because the daughter has the ability to encompass the entire family and bring them all together. Her entire being is to attach herself to her husband and her family and to build her home. In the Jewish nation, how many times do we see our women toiling to strengthen the communal institutions! Indeed, they shoulder the tasks involved in nationwide institutions and charities. The daughters of Tzelafchad merited preserving their own families and merging them with other families as well. Thus, their righteous influence was felt outside their own individual selves.
Moshe and Yehoshua are the symbols of the communal man, the man who has spirit within him. The man who can identify with the spirits of the individuals and forge them into a community.
Then come the daily and festival offerings. This was all necessary to prepare for entry into the Land. When everyone would be anchored in their individual homes, they would need communal service to unite them. In those times, a maamad was sent to the temple to represent the community back home.
Everyone can become a Pinchas. He only needs to know his strength and where his ability to bring merit to the community lies. Each man who comes to shul early makes the minyan. His reward is as much as that of the next 100 who come to shul. A hundred is the symbol of a community. The first 10 understand that though they are individuals, they can create a tzibur.
Everyone can become a daughter of Tzelafchad. Everyone can use his or her wisdom and energy to change the look of a home, a family, a community and the entire people. Everyone can bring people together to prevent fracture and contention. Everyone can leave a permanent impression and preserve the identity of the people of Israel as a cohesive, united community.
Rabbi Shimon Silver is the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is provided by the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.