This week we read Parshat Pinhas. In the middle of the Parsha, we get the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad. The Daughters approach Moses to plead that they get to keep the land that belonged to their father. They had no brother to inherit (as Biblical law would normally instruct) and they were seeking the right to keep the land in the family, despite the lack of male heirs. This story is amazing for many reasons, not least of which is its role as what some might call a proto-feminist narrative. The Daughters stand up to authority to seek out what they believe to be true.
The next part of the story confirms this. “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying/וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. כֵּן בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד דֹּבְרֹת” (Num. 27:6-7). Rivka Luvitz, in her Midrash, writes, “Tanot* asked God: If the Daughters of Zelophehad spoke truth, why do You not write thus in Your Torah, for are You not truth and Your Torah true and Your words eternal? God answered her: ‘Truth will sprout from the earth’ (Psalms 85:12). Tanot asked: Does it not say, ‘God’s Torah is perfect (תְּמִימָה)’ (Psalms 19:8)? God answered her: I have already written in my Torah, ‘Complete (תָּמִים) you will be with the Lord your God’ (Deut. 18:13). And I have further stated: ‘Walk before me and be complete (תָּמִים)’ (Gen. 17:1). There is truth that comes down from on high and there is truth that sprouts up from below. Happy is the generation wherein these truths meet. As it says, ‘Truth will sprout forth from the earth and justice will peer on from the heavens” (Dirshuni, pg. 92). Luvitz wonders if it is correct what the Daughters had to say, why did the Torah not say so from the beginning, only waiting until now to amend the law? The midrash teaches that God is most pleased when human truth sprouts up and meets divine truth. Combined, this new super truth is the wholeness we are striving for.
Earlier in the Parsha, God tells Moses, “Therefore say, “I hereby grant him my covenant of peace/לָכֵן אֱמֹר: הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת-בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם” (Num. 25:12). A midrash (Tanhuma Pinhas 1) teaches of the greatness of peace/shalom, since we end our prayers with it (Sim Shalom) and Torah is called Shalom, as it is written “And all of her paths are Peace/וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם” (Prov. 3:11). The Chernobyler Rebbe** teaches that to understand this verse, one first needs to understand the penultimate verse of the Book of Prophets, “Lo, I and sending you the prophet Elijah before the...day of the Lord comes/ ’הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא לִפְנֵי בּוֹא יוֹם ה” (Malakhi 3:23)ꜜ. The Chernobyler explains that the verse specifically uses the term “I am sending/שולח” in the present tense. Elijah represents our ideal current mindset. We should have passion for wholeness. Once we have the desire, we can tap into it and channel our actions accordingly. This unity is what the Messianic age is all about. This is the wholeness we are looking for. It is the union of thought and speech, of mind and body, of intention and fulfillment. This wholeness (shleimut/שלימות) is the covenant of peace/shalom that God is hoping for.
It is very easy for passion to lead us astray, from the zealous to the trivial. How many times have I been inspired and yet I cannot focus while I pray, merely muttering meaningless words? How many times have I felt the itch to go out and do something important only to flop down on the couch to play video games? How often have I been learning Torah and let my conversation become mundane? This Parsha instructs us in the virtues of passion directed properly. Once you feel it, you are in “Elijah” mode. You should be running and channeling the passion in your prayers, in your studies and in your actions. These actions, born of a union of intention and fulfillment, will bring about a Messianic world (speedily and in our days) of peace and wholeness. The Daughters of Zelophehad understood this. They had a passion for truth, and sought to make sure that their truth became combined with God’s truth. Our mission is to feel that desire and channel it properly. May we all merit to feel the passion of Elijah and Tanot, and may we see the day when our world is made true and whole.
*Tanot has become a hero figure, like Elijah, in certain feminist midrashic circles. She appears in the Bible in Judges 11:40.
**Rabbi Menachem Nochum Twersky of Chernobyl (born 1730, Norynsk, Volhynia - died 1787, Chernobyl, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth) was the founder of the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty. He was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch, and published one of the first works of Hasidic thought.
ꜜ Elijah, according to tradition, heralds the coming of the Messiah. If Elijah is here (if we have the passion) then the Messiah (wholeness) is coming.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.