1. There is a strange thing that occurs three times in this parsha. Women are identified by their father’s names. The first of these instances involves Kozbi daughter of Zur. She is identified for two reasons. First, she is Midianite – just like Moshe’s wife. Her name shows she wasn’t Moshe’s wife. Second, her title indicates that Pinchas was following direct order from Hashem in his behavior. A woman who has her father’s name is still connected to his house. The worship of Baal Peor probably involved public sex (Peor means expose). When the Jewish people fall into this, Hashem orders that all the leaders be strung up. But Moshe ignores this. He asks the people to kill those ‘joined’ with Baal Peor. But the people don’t, they just weep at the tent unwilling to act. So what does Pinchas do? He kills a man directly ‘joined’ with Baal Peor – a woman who is sleeping with Zimri but is still spiritually connected to her father’s house. Pinchas is following Moshe’s orders. And when we see his name this week we see that Pinchas was (perhaps unknowingly) also following Hashem’s orders. He killed a leader of the Jewish people. This incident reveals a fundamental breakdown that forever changes the relationship of the Jews and Hashem.
  2. Asher’s daughter Serach is the key to understanding this counting. She is mentioned in Bereshit as a sister and here as a daughter. But no family comes from her, so she shouldn’t matter anymore. She is mentioned here because this census records “Kol Adat Bnei Yisrael” all the witnesses among the Children of Israel. It records those Children of Israel who are cast out from the role of witnesses (Datan, Aviram, Korach, Nadav and Avihu) – and it remembers those who inherit the mantle of Yisrael, even if like Serach they never marry and have children. The real question is, why are recording this now?
    1. Asher’s is the only family that is blessed by Yaacov for their food. Perhaps Serach was a lifechanging cook.
  3. Now we have the inheritance of the land here. But it is fixed. If a particular family has more sons, they will have less land per person. And if the population multiplies, there will be a scarcity of supporting land. Why fix it by family – why not make it more fluid, perhaps by tribe? I believe it is because, due to the Pinchas incident, Hashem is drawing the lines. Permanently. We’ll get to why soon.
    1. Note, the daughters of Zelaphchad say their father was not in the assembly of Datan and Aviram. Why? As we saw in the previous reading, if he was part of that assembly they would have lost all inheritance.
  4. Now we see the message of Pinchas begin to hit home. Moshe passes on his legacy to Yohoshua. But there’s a major change. Where Elazar has the same role as his father, Yohoshua doesn’t have the same role as Moshe. It could be because he isn’t as great – but from the get-go we see that he must communicate via Eleazar’s Urim. There is no option for direct communication no matter how great he becomes. Why? Because of the episode of Pinchas. Moshe is a shepherd, Yohoshua is supposed to be a shepherd. And shepherd’s defend their flock. And so there was a total breakdown with Baal Peor. Those who communicate with Hashem must be focused on timeless Kedusha. Like priests. Like Pinchas – with eternal priesthood. After the Baal Peor there is a separation between the shepherd and the receiver of divine guidance. We are, in some sense, replacing rule by G-d with rule by G-d’s laws. This is why we fix inheritance and land. That is why nobody after Moshe receives Halacha. With Pinchas, the time for active changing of families and inheritance is over.
    1. Note that the she’ela Moshe asks Hashem about Zelaphchad (right before the transfer of authority) was the last she’ela Moshe ever explicitly asks Hashem. Even the movement of Ephraim and half of Menashe doesn’t get this treatment.
  5. Now we have the regular offerings. Why? To reinforce that we are now under timeless laws. The switch to Yohoshua means nothing to our routines and our connection to Hashem has been fixed.
  6. The holidays mentioned here have almost no context. Just timing and order and rules. Even Pesach doesn’t mention why it is celebrated. This lack of meaning reinforces the concept that the routines are the key here. Generation to generation they will persist in some form or another. This is why we read these sections when we daven. Interestingly, the only festival with a clear meaning is Shavuot – the festival of first fruits. Why? Because it ties the festivals to the timelessness of the seasons themselves.
  7. In this final section, we have Sukkot and the buildup of distinct offerings. Here there is a clear pattern of reducing bulls – but no explanation. There are many explanations for this pattern, the most famous is the offering on behalf of all the nations – there are 70 bulls offered total. But there is no explanation here. The important thing here is the pattern itself. It is recognizing that there is a godly pattern and we follow it even if we strip it of meaning. It is about governance by G-d’s Law rather than directly by G-d.

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