Our portion picks up where last week’s left off, in the aftermath of a plague. Phineas is blessed by God for his actions, and a new census of the people is taken. The brotherless daughters of Zelophehad appeal to Moses for a share in the land of Israel, and God delineates the laws of inheritance. God shows Moses the Promised Land, which he will never enter, and appoints Joshua as his successor. The portion ends with a list of the daily and holiday sacrificial services.
A Census Follows Plague
Last week, God sent a plague to punish the Israelites for sinning in Shittim in the plains of Moab. The plague only ended when Phineas, grandson of Aaron, killed Zimri, an Israelite man who was sinning, and Cozbi, the Midianite woman with whom he was sinning. In our portion, God blesses Phineas for his actions, granting him an eternal priesthood and a covenant of peace.
The Israel Bible points to the seeming irony of Phineas’s blessing: for an act of violence, he is rewarded with peace. From here we learn a valuable lesson. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. Wrongs must be righted. Only where there is truth and justice can peace prevail.
Following the plague, God orders a new census be taken, counting the people over the age of twenty by tribal and familial affiliation. Reuben numbers 43,730; Gad, 40,500; Simeon, 22,200; Judah, 76,500; Issachar, 64,300; Zebulun, 60,500; Manasseh, 52,700; Ephraim, 32,500; Benjamin, 45,600; Dan, 64,400; Asher, 53,400; and Naphtali, 45,400. All told, the Israelites number 601,730. To these God promises a share in the Promised Land.
The Levites are counted separately, numbering 23,000 males over one month of age. They are not to receive a portion of the land as an inheritance.
The Torah tells us that not one of those counted, besides Joshua and Caleb, was of age during the Sin of the Spies, thus signaling the completion of the punishment God set at that time. As the Israel Bible points out, now is the perfect time to take a census to assess the size of the army that will go forth to conquer the Holy Land, as well as determine how that land will be divided.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think the identities of the sinners are only revealed here, after the story ends, and not when they are introduced in last week’s portion?
The Daughters of Zelophehad
As it becomes apparent that the nation is about to enter the land, the five brotherless daughters of Zelophehad approach Moses with an unusual request. Their father, they explain, perished in the desert, but was not among those who were punished with losing their claim to a portion of the land. Since they have no brothers, however, there is no descendent qualified to inherit the land their father should have received. They ask Moses if they may inherit his portion.
Moses consults God on the matter, Who says the women are right. He instructs Moses to give them their father’s inheritance, and states for all time that where there are no sons, daughters may inherit from their fathers. If the deceased is childless, his share passes to his surviving brother, or his brother’s heirs. If he has no brother, it reverts to his father’s brothers, and if not, to his next closest relative.
The Israel Bible highlights the daughters’ love for the Land of Israel. It is no coincidence that their lineage is traced back to Joseph, who loved Israel so much he made his brothers swear to take his remains back to the Holy Land when they left Egypt.
Points to Ponder
This story deals with women’s rights in Torah law. How does it fit into your expectations of the portrayal of women in the Torah? Is it surprising? Why or why not?
A Successor for Moses
As Moses will not be allowed to enter the Land of Israel, God tells him to climb to the top of Mount Abarim and see the land which He has given to the Children of Israel. The Israel Bible explains the repetition of beholding/seeing the land in both verses 12 and 13 indicates Moses saw its spiritual, as well as physical, beauty. Then, God tells him, he will die as his brother, Aaron, did. Ever worried for his people, Moses asks God to choose a successor for him, so that they will continue to be guided in all they do.
God tells Moses to take Joshua, whom God calls “a man in whom is spirit”, and lay his hands upon the younger man. Moses is to pass on his proverbial mantle in the face of Eleazar the priest and all the congregation of Israel. Joshua, God tells Moses, will lead the people from now on, Eleazar will communicate God’s will to him via the mystical Urim, and the people will follow him. Moses does as he is told, laying his hands on Joshua and passing on his leadership role.
Points to Ponder
We are only two-thirds of the way through the Book of Numbers, and we still have all of Deuteronomy before we reach Moses’s death. So why do you think the Torah tells us now about appointing Joshua as Moses’s successor?
Daily and Holiday Offerings
The remainder of the portion is dedicated to the sacrificial services to be brought daily to the Tabernacle, including the additions for special occasions. The daily offering consists of two lambs, one in the morning and one in the evening, with accompanying meal-offerings and drink-offerings. For the Sabbath, there are an additional two he-lambs.
The Israel Bible reminds us that the Sabbath is meant to mark both the seventh day of creation and the Exodus from Egypt. By keeping the Sabbath, we bear witness that God not only created the world, but continues to take part in it. Likewise, when we observe the seven-year shmitta cycle, we acknowledge that God is the source of all our material success.
The sacrifice of the new moon, marking the start of each new month in the Jewish calendar, is two young bullocks, one ram, seven he-lambs and accompanying meal and drink offerings. There is also a he-goat for a sin offering that must be brought that day.
The Passover offering, brought the fourteenth day of the first month, is two young bullocks, a ram, seven he-lambs, and a he-goat for atonement, with their accompanying meal and drink offerings. The first and seventh day of the Passover holiday are marked by not doing any creative work, and no leavened product may be eaten for the duration of the holiday.
The Feast of Weeks is marked seven weeks later, for one day of holy convocation. The burnt offering consists of two young bullocks, one ram, seven he-lambs and a he-goat for atonement, like Passover.
The New Year offering is one young bullock, one ram, seven he-lambs and a he-goat for atonement. The Day of Atonement, accompanied by affliction of the soul, also requires a sacrifice of one young bullock, one ram, seven he-lambs and a he-goat for atonement. The Feast of Tabernacles requires a different combination of animals offered each day, accompanied by meal and drink offerings.
Although the Feast of Tabernacles is only seven days long, the following day, the eighth day, is also a holy convocation. It requires a young bullock, a ram, seven he-lambs and a he-goat for atonement. The Israel Bible discusses this unique day. The first seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Sages teach, have an international aspect, with seventy animal sacrifices being brought to represent the seventy nations of the world. The eighth day, however, is a day for God to celebrate alone with His people, as if He is saying, “I don’t want you to leave yet.”
Points to Ponder
What do you think is the significance of Passover having the same offerings every day, but the Feast of Tabernacles (also seven days long) having different sacrifices each day?