Friday, July 27, 2007

Shlomo’s Drash Parshat Vethanan 5767: Bindings

Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

In this week's portion, Moses finishes his first speech, reminiscing what it was like at Sinai, and mentioning several times that he will not be going into the land because of the people's guilt. Moses also repeats a theme several times of observing the commandments of God and things will be good. If the people do not, then things will be bad. But he also tells them that even when things are bad, things can become good again, by going back to the mitzvot. Moses repeats the Ten Commandments, and then some words which we are all familiar with: (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Hear Oh, Israel, the Lord is God the Lord is one! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul-life and all your might. These words which I command you today will be on your heart. You will teach them and speak of them when you dwell in your house, when going on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up. You will bind them for a sign on your hand, and they will be bindings between your eyes. You will write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

There is so much I do here and there is so much that I do not. I struggle with the Shema. We say these lines but how much do I do? The Torah geek I am, I do speak and teach at the drop of a hat. I have mezuzot on my doorposts, including my office door. It is You will bind them for a sign on your hand, and they will be bindings between your eyes that makes me struggle the most. It is the mitzvah of tefillin that I struggle with so much I’m even having a hard time writing this week, one of the many problems about getting this out late.

Tefillin of course are leather containers with straps that fit on one’s head and arm. Contained inside are four passages from the Torah. Two are from Exodus (13:1-10, 13:11-16) and two are from Deuteronomy, (6:4-9 11:13-21). They have in common some variation of the theme of bindings and signs:

Exodus 13:9. And it shall be for a sign to you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the Lord’s Torah may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand has the Lord brought you out of Egypt.

Exodus 13:16. And it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and for frontlets between your eyes; for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 6:8. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

Deuteronomy 11:18. Therefore shall you lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.

All of these passages contain two common elements: “sign upon your hand” and “frontlets between your eyes.” Beyond that there is variation between each one. The two Exodus passages mention reasons for the mitzvah explicitly: to remember the Exodus from Egypt. In the context of the Exodus passages, these are really about the observance of Passover, and indeed both are prefaced by two of the four sons of the Passover table, the son who does not ask(13:8) and the simple son (13:14) . Interestingly this pattern extends to Deuteronomy 6 as well, with the wise son asking the question, several verses later in 6:20.

From the word binding, found in each of these texts, the rabbis believe that the words should be actually tied to the person. Because of some interesting word plays with the word L’totafot, The rabbis also decided that the head tefillin needed four compartments, one for each of the different passages. The details of the tefillin's construction and use make up a section of Talmud found in Tractate Menachot, one I am for my last final for grad school busy trying to explain. But in explaining tefillin I am also bothered by tefillin and my past with tefillin.

Another reason this is late is a business trip I needed to take this week to the town where I went to College. While the school was obviously closed for the summer, on a trip down memory lane I did stop at some of my old haunts in town and did remember thing from almost two decades ago, some good and some bad. I ate dinner at creperie in town which was the favorite date spot of most from campus. I remembered one date which ended in a very romantically. Unfortunately, that also brought back the bad memories as well, as this same woman became a nightmare in my life. After eating dinner in this place, I walked over to where my apartment was, or should I say used to be. It is now a parking lot, completely paved over in asphalt and “free parking” signs. Much of the town I knew is closed and shuttered.

I realized the town had changed and so had I. The guy who walked across the campus had no Jewish identity. In my time in college and for years afterwards I rejected my Jewish identity. I was, in my mind, a Taoist. Thinking back to that time I needed a spiritual religion a religion where I was in deep connection to a divine source. The Conservative Judaism of my youth never provided that. In the Orthodox schools and conservative (or Conservadox) synagogues of my teen years, there was obligations. There was resentment and ridicule if I did not do things. This was the religion of heartless Halakah. Tefillin were mandatory, and not wearing them got me looks of hatred from the more religious. The problem with such a system is that you need to know how to do something exactly right in order to be approved of. I was so shy and scared of looking like a bigger idiot by doing thing wrong, I never put them on. The ridicule continued. I realized like the son missing from the tefillin, the wicked son who asks “what is this service to you?” I was the outsider, and like the English translations of the Haggadah we used for much of my youth, even asking that question made such a horrible human being I should not be a Jew.

So I wasn’t. I stopped being a Jew.

Instead I was someone, taking from Chinese mysticism, who believed in a transcendent unifying divinity, one I could paradoxically never completely comprehend given its infinite nature but could connect to. I could give all of my soul mind and effort to connecting with this unification called Tao. I think back to what I wanted then and am still surprised at it. Today I would summarize that belief differently than in verses from the Tao Te Ching. Today I would quote this week's parsha:

Hear Oh, Israel, the Lord is God the Lord is one! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul-life and all your might. These words which I command you today will be on your heart.

I always remember the canned tomato sauce commercial which declares “it’s in there!” In the last twelve years, I learned that describes Judaism well. There was a whole side of Jewish thought that has been missing from my and I believe many people’s education. The Baal Shem Tov reminded many of this in the 18th century. Some great thinkers in this century, notably Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Buber, has reminded us that Judaism is not just Halakah, law, but also Aggadah, story, theology and belief. Jews, for various reasons continually forget this, and when they do, it is not passed on to the next generation.

Tefillin however are a galvanizing symbol of the struggle between halacha and aggadah. Its literally internal message of remembering ourselves once as slaves and of transmitting our culture to the next generation seems to have been lost. Instead it had become a symbol of fundamentalism. Men who wear tefillin and those who don’t is equivalent to observant and non observant, even Jew and non Jew. Whether one wears tefillin or not binds to one or the other pole. I do not wear tefillin because I do not want them to be a symbol of mindless obedience, but a love note to God, and they cannot be that. The emotional impact is too great. I have had many times where I have gotten stares of hatred from ultra-orthodox men because of my refusal. The Lubabvitchers on the street corners trying to get me to wear them look at me as though I am a neo-Nazi. In one time I will never forget, I was not counted in a minyan. I was not considered Jewish, because I refused to put on tefillin.

My harsh feelings for tefillin have not abated; their use as a fundamentalist symbol remains. Yet I do obsess about the one way that their fundamentalist stigma can be broken, it is a constant theme of my Jewish related paintings. I believe fundamentalism can be destroyed by feminism. I never draw a man in tefillin, but instead a woman. Women are not banned from wearing tefillin; they are exempt under the time-bound Mitzvah exemption. To the fundamentalist, there is no difference, since women are for making and caring for babies. For them to have time to pray Shacharit with tefillin and talit on is just wrong. Yet to anyone else, exemption means they don’t have to, but if they wanted to, they could. I’m still single, but the day I pray with tefillin on will be the day I am standing next to my wife, in tefillin and talit, and we are praying together. Before that, the pain of mindless fundamentalist halakah, of the religious behaviorism Heschel wrote about will prevent me from ever laying tefillin.

It’s sad, but those who most want to follow a mitzvah, destroy the mitzvah for everyone else.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Parshat D’varim 5767: Who Wrote Deuteronomy?

Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

This week we begin the book of Deuteronomy, the last and most intriguing book of the Torah. Also known as the Mishnah Torah, it repeats and summarizes everything that came before it from the time of Sinai until the people reach the east bank of the Jordan. Deuteronomy ends with the death of Moses.

This week instead of commenting on the text I’m going to look at the entire book. Actually there is a rather odd question that I’m going to ask: Who wrote this book? It’s writing style and grammar is different that any other book of the Torah. Nowhere before Deuteronomy do we hear certain phrases, which will be reflected in later texts but never here. “All your heart and all your soul” is only here in Torah. Oddities about the text abound. It gets so odd, the documentary hypothesis of Torah which assigns authors like J and E to parts of the other four books doesn’t work here. They had to make up a new author “D.” But who is D?

The rabbis of the Talmud do believe they know who D is.

Who wrote the Scriptures? — Moses wrote his own book, the portions of Balaam and Job. Joshua wrote the book which bears his name and [the last] eight verses of the Pentateuch. [Baba Batra 14b]

Moses, except for the recounting of his death, wrote Deuteronomy according to the Sages. This, however, is not conclusive. Some object to this statement thinking that Moses wrote the whole thing, He prophesized his own death thus writing those last lines in tears. [Baba Batra15a] Among those lines, we read

10. And there has not arisen since in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face,[Deut 34]

Interestingly someone else had an obituary similar to this:

25. And like him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Torah of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.[II K 34]

This is only the second time in the entire Tanach that the phrase “all his heart, all his soul and all his might” shows up. The first of courses is in the Shema:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. [Deut 6:4]

This may not be a coincidence. The obituary in II Kings is for King Josiah. Josiah was a righteous king of Judah, a few decades before the destruction of the first temple. In the later part of his life he became one of the most righteous kings of all time by destroying all the idolatrous sites in Judah, centralizing Jewish observance in Jerusalem and even making incursions in the former northern kingdom. His zeal started around the eighteenth year of his reign with a payroll audit. After several years of idolatrous kings, the Temple needed some renovation, and Josiah had workers begin the renovation effort. He sends Shapan the scribe to deal with the payroll issues, who’s met at the Temple by the High priest Hilkiah:

8. And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found a book of Torah in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9. And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it to the hand of the workmen, who supervise the house of the Lord. 10. And Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest has delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. 11. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the Torah, that he tore his clothes. [II Kings 22]

What could have caused such a commotion? Was this the whole Torah, or a part of it? The repetition of this story in II Chronicles adds one more detail:

14. And when they brought out the money that was brought to the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found a Book of Torah of the Lord by the hand of Moses. [II Chron 34:14]

Moses wrote this. While Torah mentions Moses transmitted individual things from god by his hand, no where is there something that would upset a king. However,

1. These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness…3. And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spoke to the people of Israel, according to all that the Lord had given him in commandment to them;[Deuteronomy1 ]

At the end of Deuteronomy we read:

24. And it came to pass, when Moses had finished writing the words of this Torah in a book, until they were finished, 25. That Moses commanded the Levites, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, 26. Take this book of the Torah, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you. [Deut 33]

Like the rabbis said, it looks very much like Moses wrote Deuteronomy with his own hand. The book of Torah which is specifically Moses’ is Deuteronomy. There are other places in Torah where we are told do good and you get good, and do bad and things are going to go very bad, including exile. It is only in Deuteronomy that we see one particular wrinkle which would get a king upset enough to tear his garments:

36. The Lord shall bring you, and your king which you shall set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known; and there shall you serve other gods, of wood and stone. 37. And you shall become astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations where the Lord shall lead you. [Deuteronomy 28]

Here we see a mention of a king which could of course make a king upset. Josiah sends the text to a prophet to verify the prophecy. Since apparently Jeremiah is out of town, Josiah sends the scroll with a delegation to the prophetess Hulda, who’s also interestingly enough Hilkiah’s cousin. She tells his envoys is that since Josiah’s been a good boy, this prophecy is true but will not happen during his reign.[22:19] Given this and several other mentions of kings in Deuteronomy, very likely the book Hilkiah and Shapan find is Deuteronomy.

Josiah’s reaction is to destroy every idolatrous thing in the entire kingdom, and brings a massive scorched earth policy of removing Idolatry. Among the things he destroys is the Bamot, the high places which served as local sacrificial altars. Prior to Josiah, there altars served both idolatrous and non idolatrous purposes. Elijah uses one at Mt. Carmel is his contest with the Priests of Baal. Joshua sets one up at Mt. Ebal in accordance to directives from Moses. Several times in the book of Judges including Samson’s parents and Gideon people perform sacrifices to God at bamot.

Yet Gideon’s case shows part of the problem. Around this altar is Ashera, idolatrous wood posts or trees. Gideon uses them for kindling. Functionally however, the Bamot allowed local communities to makes sacrifices as a community and not schlep all the way to Jerusalem every time a sacrifice was needed. Such communal sacrifice was so needed no other king before Josiah was ever as successful as he was with destroying the Bamot.

Josiah did something else as well. He mandated all Levitical and priestly activity to be in Jerusalem at the temple. Sacrifices outside of the temple were completely banned. Economically, the results are obvious. All offerings were coming to the Temple now, not the high places. Jerusalem benefited at the cost of the local priests.

So who wrote Deuteronomy? For some, looking at the evidence of Josiah’s story, there are the streaks of conspiracy in the air. The temple needs money for rennovation, the priests need power and Josiah needs to consolidate his power as well. It is rather convenient at that exact moment such a document from Moses shows up. The document dictates that everything needs to be centralized in Jerusalem, and if it doesn’t happen, everyone’s going to die or be exiled. For much of the nineteenth and early 20th century everyone thought D was a member of Josiah’s court. Shapan could have written it, or edited and expanded an earlier document Joshua used to set up the bamot at Mt. Ebal. So too could the prophetess Hulda, whose husband had access to many hidden nooks and crannies in the temple. Mid 20th century scholars thought the conspiracy went back further to the time of King Hezekiah, who like Josiah, also tried a reformation, though not as successfully. It was the priesthood of the family of Zadok, Hilkiah’s and Hulda’s family, grabbing the power of the priesthood during the time of Hezekiah was the theory.

However, I need to look at the events that happened after the discovery of Deuteronomy. Something odd happened. When people were told to stop making sacrifices anywhere but the Temple, they did. But they still couldn’t go up to the temple for every little mandated sacrifice. So they did something else. Josiah was obviously affected by this Torah of Moses, so instead of making offerings, the people began to read communally this document. They found a few items in Deuteronomy that appeared to make good reading for a daily service and a Shabbat service. The Shema [6:4-9, 11:13-21] and the Ten Commandments [Deut 5:6-19] became more than readings. They became communal liturgy.

This new idea, praying instead of killing animals or burning incense had a lot of pragmatic merit. It was cheap, since no animals were necessary, and maintenance of the high places wasn’t needed either. All you needed was to gather a bunch of people and start chanting or reading. In the next couple of decades it stuck with many people. Unlike the time after Hezekiah when the High places are rebuilt, the high places disappear at this point and never exist again. Assemblies of people begin to replace them.

The idea stuck in the next several decades. By the time of the destruction of the Temple it was already habit. One of the exiled, Daniel, would pray towards Jerusalem three times a day.[Daniel 6:10] Prayer, unlike the Temple or even a High place, was very portable. A liturgy coordinated everyone to pray together and made an organized language of prayer. All of this made Judaism a portable religion, one of the few that has survived millennia. When the exiles return to the Second Temple to celebrate the first Rosh Hashanah there, we do not hear in Nehemiah of new sacrifices, but of a Torah reading not very different from todays, including translation and possibly a D’var Torah as well:

5. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; for he was above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up; 6. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Torah; while the people stood in their places. 8. So they read in the book in the Torah of God clearly, and gave the interpretation, so that they understood the reading.

By the time of these readings, not only was prayer and Torah readings a substitute for a folk religion of bamot, it was the ritual of the elite.

So who wrote Deuteronomy? Who was D? Moses? Joshua? Shapan? Hilkiah? Huldah? Was it a conspiracy to find it in the Temple in Josiah’s time, or just an accident? I believe it was a conspiracy, but the culprit is a suspect not in the list so far. A Talmudic sage, a man who saw the world both as a warrior and as a rabbi, Resh Lakish once said:

The Holy One, blessed be He, does not smite Israel unless He has created for them a healing beforehand, as it says . When I have healed Israel, then is the iniquity of Ephraim uncovered. [B. Megilah 13b]

Resh Lakish notes the reversal in Hoshea 7:1. The Northern kingdom is described by two common terms: Israel, and its dominant tribe Ephraim. But the healing is before the affliction here. Resh Lakish concludes that God makes sure there is a way to survive any affliction before he brings down that affliction. No nation who made sacrifice the critical element of their religion ever survived exile. Decades before the Exile and destruction of the temple, the discovery of Deuteronomy by Josiah’s court caused a crisis. The result of that crisis was the replacement of the Bamot with the Beit Knesset, the Synagogue. It was the right time for the right idea. Had Deuteronomy not been found exactly then, it’s likely there would not have been a Jewish people after that first exile.

For me it’s not the issue of who was D, but instead who put D and everyone else at the right place at the right time to get exactly the results that came about, which has saved the Jewish people until the present day. So the true culprit is of course…


Friday, July 13, 2007

Parshat Matot-Masei 5767: Endings

Numbers 30:2-36:13

This week, ironically, my life parallels Torah. We end the book of Numbers, and in effect the journey that is the exodus from Egypt. Deuteronomy begins next week, with Moses’ review of all the mitzvot. With the exception of the death of Moses, the narrative is over in Torah.
So too with my life. A part of my life is over, one that went on for what seemed like 40 years, though it was only five. Thursday afternoon I finished the last class for my Masters in Jewish Studies degree. I only have one more take-home final exam (which I’ll talk about in the upcoming weeks). When I turn that in, I have finished grad school.
I felt weird leaving the building. I procrastinated leaving, spending a lot of time schmoozing with other students before walking out the door. When I did walk out the door, I cried. Nothing will ever be same now. I did a lot of thinking and fretting this week. What now? Will all of this work really come to a new career in Jewish education, books and speaking engagements as I’ve so wanted for years? I’ve been hiding behind books and papers for so long. Can I even live a real life like other people?
I think similar questions were brewing in the minds of the Israelites in this week’s portion. Not like those questions weren’t there before. The reason why it’s been a forty year trek for them was how they answered those questions 38 years earlier. Back in Shelach Lecha, when the spies came back from exploring the land, the majority gave a negative report. Of that night we read:
1. And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. 2. And all the people of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! 3. And why has the Lord brought us to this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? [Num 14:1-3]
There is Midrash that tells us more about that night. God was certainly not pleased with that crying over nothing, and says “I’ll give you something to cry about.” [Genesis Rabbah 16:20] We are then told the date those people cried: The 9th of Av. For their tears and fear not only was there 40 years in the wilderness but two temples destroyed, the expulsion from Spain, and the first trainload of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto left for Treblinka. The up coming 9th of Av is a sad day in Jewish history.
While the rabbis could never have imagined the Shoah, I think the Rabbis of the Midrash are making a very important point here. You can only go forward. Whining and wanting to keeps things as they are just doesn’t work. It actually is harmful not only in the short term, but the long term as well.
With that in mind, it is a rather interesting request Moses gets from The Tribes of Reuben and Gad.
4. The country which the Lord struck before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and your servants have cattle; 5. Therefore, said they, if we have found grace in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession, and bring us not over the Jordan.[Numbers 32:4-5]
Moses is not a happy camper when he hears this. He reminds Gad and Reuben of the Spies 38 years earlier and the mess that caused. While they don’t say it, it’s clear in Moses’ mind what going on. These are people afraid to go on, to make the final leap across the river. So Gad and Reuben propose a solution.
16. And they came near to him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones; 17. But we ourselves will go ready armed before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place; and our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18. We will not return to our houses, until the people of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance. 19. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan, and beyond, because our inheritance has fallen to us on this east side of the Jordan.
They will be the shock troops in taking the land, “before” really meaning the ones on the front lines. They will do the scariest most dangerous work, and in return have the land on the other side. To that proposal, if they face their fear they get to stay behind, Moses agrees. So half a third tribe, Manasseh, along with Gad and Reuben settle on the west side.

The last chapter of Numbers brings up that third tribe who like Gad and Reuben don’t want things to change. And the chief fathers of the families of the sons of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near, and spoke before Moses, and before the princes, the chief fathers of the people of Israel;
2. And they said, The Lord commanded my lord to give the land for an inheritance by lot to the people of Israel; and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. 3. And if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the people of Israel, then shall their inheritance be taken from the inheritance of our fathers, and shall be given to the inheritance of the tribe where they are received; so shall it be taken from the lot of our inheritance. 4. And when the jubilee of the people of Israel shall be, then shall their inheritance be given to the inheritance of the tribe where they are received; so shall their inheritance be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.
The issue of the daughters of Zelophehad is raised again. The males of their families are not happy at losing land to other tribes through marriage, and want the rule overturned. They want things to stay the same that the guys get everything. Yet here they don’t get to go back either, there is compromise. There is an issue, no doubt. But the result is there will be a limitation to the original ruling.
8. And every daughter, who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel, shall be the wife to one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the people of Israel may enjoy every man the inheritance of his fathers.
In one sense something new occurs here, though still from God. The beginnings of the Oral law and the cycle of Mitzvah, objection, modification followed by more objections and modifications begins. As my last class was Talmud, it is a pattern near and dear to my heart right now as it is the heart of Talmud. Yet at the same time we have a tribe who has their foot in two phases of life at the same time. One can compare it to a balding old man with grey hair who keeps wearing a red toupee.
Biblical history tells us the result of such thinking. Neither Gad, Rueben nor Manasseh are around any more. When one faces a new phase of life, the best thing to do is face it fully. Many at Spertus go straight from the Master’s program into the Doctoral program, we even joke about the seamless transition. Many have asked me when I was going to start on my doctorate. Knowing these people well, I know they are not like Gad or Manasseh, but instead like the rabbis, deeply committed to learning. Most have a life outside of Spertus, and they come to Chicago twice a year from a deep love of Jewish learning. As much as I’m tempted, I can’t be one of those who continue school – I need that seam. I have been Gad and Reuben, hiding from what is on the other side of the Jordan. I’ve never settled on the other side, the side of fully living. As much as I want what’s on the other side, I run away from it back to my books at the first possibility.
I’m finding it very scary crossing that river, having a life like anyone else. Yet, I will cross into the scary parts. I think at various stages in each of our lives we have felt the same. There are times where we hit a barrier between phases and are afraid to cross. But crossing is inevitable. Not crossing may even be harmful.
Even though the narrative of Torah virtually ends this week, it is not the end of the narrative. There’s lot to do on the other side, and Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, David, Solomon and the prophets will have quite the journey ahead of them. It’s just a different journey, a new road, and way of journeying. In our own lives, it’s good to remember that.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Parshat Pinhas 5767: The New Generation

Among the many activities of this week’s portion, there is a census similar to the one that began the book of Numbers back at Sinai. That census completes with:

63. These are those who were counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who counted the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan near Jericho. 64. But among these there was not a man of them whom Moses and Aaron the priest counted, when they counted the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. 65. For the Lord had said of them, They shall surely die in the wilderness. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.

The generation who will enter into the land is ready to do so, and throughout this portion we have examples of why this generation is ready. To begin we have Pinhas, who stopped the plague of Peor single handedly.

11. Pinhas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned my anger away from the people of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the people of Israel in my jealousy. 12. Therefore say, Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace;13. And he shall have it, and his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the people of Israel.

During the census we learn one more interesting detail about the Korah rebellion:

11. But the sons of Korah did not die.

Given the numerous Psalms in their names, there arose a rabbinic tradition that while their father was rebelling they were singing psalms of praise. After the census we have the first true halakic debate, brought by the daughters of Zelophehad.

1. Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. 2. And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the Tent of Meeting, saying, 3. Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. 4. Why should the name of our father be taken away from among his family, because he had no sons? Give to us therefore a possession among the brothers of our father. 5. And Moses brought their cause before the Lord. 6. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 7. The daughters of Zelophehad speak right; you shall surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers; and you shall cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them.[Numbers 27]

There was one thing I implied last week, but never said. While God did get angry in the matter of Peor, nowhere in the Torah never does it say that God struck the people with a plague. Not only in my environmental health role can I see that the plague of Peor was self imposed. So was its solution: Pinhas made a very pointed argument. Aaron’s grandson, Korah's sons and Zeolphehad’s daughters do not wait for some one else to do something: they act and act righteously, not just for their own good but the good of God and the whole community. If the daughters had not the courage to speak up as mere girls, would the case for inheritance by daughter ever be brought up?

Over and over again their parents’ generation continually talk about being provided for, mostly provided for by the Egyptian slave masters. They romanticize this former life over and over again, talking about the abundance they got to eat as slaves. Their parent’s generation was the one who continually whined Moses brought them to die in the Wilderness. None of them have faith to either God or Moses.

On the other hand Zeolphehad’s daughters take a mitzvah and ask a question about a possible problem with it. Only a chapter before, we are told the land will be portioned by the names on the census, which are all males of military age (Numbers 26:52-55). But, ask these girls, how does inheritance work when there are no sons but only daughters? Moses does not know and has to ask God.

According to the rabbinic view, the Sons of Korah acted similarly. They saw their father’s rebellion all around them, but responded with deep proclamations of faith.

Like a deadly wound in my bones, my enemies taunt me;
While they say daily to me, Where is your God?
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
Why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
Who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
[Ps. 42:11-12]

When even Moses is unable to act, Pinhas slays someone involved with a tasteless exhibitionist act in the Mishkan. All three of these cases point to two things. This is a generation who is not afraid to act. This is also a generation who does so not for themselves but for God and the Mitzvot of God.

This week I’m finishing the penultimate paper of my master’s degree. I remember one class I took a few years back where the professor started the class with “prepare to be depressed.” Jewish demographics are very alarming and depressing. Whether through, intermarriage, conversion to other religions or outright apathy, the Jewish population is dwindling. Nothing seems to work. Yet this generation to inherit the land points out what does work. Believe in God and serve God. Do not just talk, but act. Question and further develop the Mitzvot into Halakah. In our modern times, I wonder if there will be a generation that will arise to see that. There are inroads, but hopefully not too little too late.

Hopefully others will see the lessons as did the generation that inherited the land.