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The Rabbi's Column

Parashat Pinchas
July 14-15, 2017    -   21 Tammuz 5777

Triennial (Numbers 25:10-30:1): Etz Hayim p. 918 Hertz p. 686
Haftarah (Jeremiah 1:2-2:3): Etz Hayim, p. 968; Hertz p. 710

Welcome to the new weekly "Torah Sparks" direct from the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem!
Each week we will be sending out a wonderful combination of Divrei Torah from CY faculty and alumni, great ideas for Shabbat table conversations and links to our weekly Haftarah commentary and our "Daf Shevui" - a chance to learn a page of Talmud every week with a master Talmud teacher. We have just begun our year of learning here in Jerusalem. The CY's beautiful Beit Midrash is full of students seeking to explore and develop their relationships with Jewish text, prayer and community. Torah Sparks gives you a taste of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem every week. 

Pinchas, Vampires and Immortality
 
 By Dr. Joshua Kulp, Rosh Yeshiva, Talmud teacher, and a founder of the Conservative Yeshiva

As I write this d'var Torah, I am reading a modern re-telling of the vampire myth called The Historian (by Elizabeth Kostova). Vampires are to an extent immortal, and can only be killed by a stake to the heart or extreme exposure to light. I will admit to a certain fascination with the notion of immortality and I will even admit to having read Anne Rice's campy Vampire Lestat series when I was younger.  
 
There are several biblical characters to whom ancient Jews ascribed immortality. One of them is Pinchas, the eponymous hero of our parsha. After having killed the Israelite Zimri and the Midianite Cozbi for fornicating, God's promises Pinchas, "It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God, vachaper and atoned (or 'will atone') for the Israelites" (Numbers 25:13). The strange thing about this verse is that Pinchas was already a priest and the priesthood descends genealogically. Pinchas seems to be receiving an eternal reward that was already his in the first place!
 
There are hints in the Bible that Pinchas lived an extraordinarily long life. Pinchas is still alive when the tribes fight a war against the Benjaminites in Judges 20:27-28, "The Israelites inquired of the LORD (for the Ark of God's Covenant was there in those days, and Phinehas son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest ministered before Him in those days)." Post-biblical authors go a step further and read Pinchas's reward as not only an extraordinarily long life, but immortality, combining him with another biblical character, Elijah, who according to tradition, was also immortal (and both of whom share a passion for zealotry). Such a theme is found in the writings of a variety of authors, including Hellenistic Jewish authors such as Pseudo-Philo, Aramaic Targumim and various rabbinic sources.
 
But why is immortality such a great reward? What is the purpose of living forever? Would one want such a gift? Indeed, in the vampire novels I am so often drawn to, immortality becomes a sort of punishment. The vampire's contemporaries all die, his/her memories blend into one another, the vampire grows exceedingly weary of life, and wishes to die. Indeed, I think if most of us were to ponder deeply the notion that we would live forever, even if our lives were healthy, we would not desire such a gift.
 ;
But this is because vampire literature is hedonisitic-the vampire lives forever, not for the greater good of humanity, but simply because s/he has that ability. In contrast, in Jewish imagination, individual immortality serves the world. Picking up on the fact that vachaper in Numbers 25:13 can be read "will atone" and not just "atoned," Sifrei Numbers 113 states that Pinchas will eternally make atonement for Israel, until the end of days. Targum Yonatan says that Pinchas will announce the redemption, just as does Elijah. Other immortal figures such as Serach bat Asher and Enoch also serve the world through their immortality.
 
Immortality is, I believe, a fascinating form of speculative fiction because it forces us to ask what humanity's role in the world is. If human existence is hedonistic, then living forever would become torturous. Once every possibility has been experienced multiple times, living would become simply exhausting. But if the point of eternal life is directed outward, towards serving the mortals who continue to be born and die, then immortality becomes a little more godly. That is the eternal reward that tradition accords Pinchas.     


A  Vort Parashat Naso
by Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Moses asks God to appoint as his successor one "who will go out and come in before them, and who will take them out and bring them in" (Num 27:17).  The Avnei Ezel (attributed to Alexander Zusia Friedman, author of Mayana shel Torah/Wellspring of Torah, 1897 - 1943, Poland, killed by the Nazis) said that a true leader goes ahead, drawing the people up to him, rather than lowering himself to their level and yielding to their wishes, to curry favor.  Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter (the iddushei HaRim, 1798-1866, founder of the Ger Ḥasidic dynasty Poland), said that such a leader will "take them out" of their lowly state and "bring them in" to a higher level of kedusha.  Would that we had leaders like that today!
Table Talk
By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Our Parasha brings to a close the failure at Ba'al Peor and the zealotry of Pinchas.  Now we prepare to enter the Land of Israel, and receive one more chapter of sacrifices - this time the special communal additions for Chagim (holidays).
 
1) Pinchas stopped God's anger by killing 2 of the offending people (story in 25:1-9). Their names and positions are given here (25:14-15).  Why do you think that the Torah shared this personal information about them?
 
2) The second census in the book of Bamidbar (26:1-51) couts males from age 20 who could join the army. As we are now in the 40th year, on the threshold of Eretz Yisrael, there is another significance for this census (26:52-56).  What is it? How will the numbers in the census effect this reason?
 
3) One group that was overlooked in the discussion about land allocation is represented by a group in 27:1-11.  Who are they and what do they want?  Why do they care? (Give their explanation and your ideas.) What new law is learnt from this case?
 
4) Now that entering the land is becoming a reality, we begin our parting from Moshe (27:12-14).  What will Moshe get to do before dying?  What will he not do?  God says Moshe will die as Aaron his brother did.  What do you think is meant by that comparison?
 
5) The Parasha ends with the sacrifices for the various holidays.  (The Maftir readings on holidays come from here.)  Compare the sacrifices of Pesach (28:17-24) and Succot (28:12-34), the 2 full-week holidays.  What have you noticed?  What explanation can you offer for this phenomenon?

Shabbat Shalom,
Vered



By Rabbi Gouze:
Hilary Clinton quoted the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child” and made it famous. Well, it also takes a community in order to make sure that a synagogue runs smoothly. It does not matter how small or large a synagogue is—without volunteers and individuals who are committed to doing the planning, governance and implementation of programming, a synagogue would not be able to function.

Temple Shaare Tefilah has been blessed over the years with a number of dedicated individuals who have contributed their talents, skills, time and energy to ensuring that the work gets done. They are the backbone of the synagogue and it is due to their efforts that the synagogue has been able to flourish and negotiate the different challenges that have faced the congregation. If I were to list everyone, I would end up basically naming everybody who is a member because, at one time or another, everyone has pitched in to help, be it cooking for a Shabbat dinner, shopping for supplies, calling people for a shiva minyan, doing the mitzvah of participating in a shiva minyan, etc.

However, there are a number of people who need to be mentioned by name because they have gone over and beyond with their service to the synagogue and with the number of years that they have dedicated to the congregation. The first group of people are some of the officers of the board, namely Bev Kramer, Stu Zorn and Edith Weiner. I am sure that when they first agreed to serve, that they were not expecting their terms to be life terms but as a result of a confluence of their skill set and other individuals not being available, they have willingly and graciously served as officers for over fifteen years. And they still approach their jobs with the same commitment and sense of responsibility as when they were new to the position.

I would also like to publicly thank and commend Ken Turkewitz for his years of service, not just as President but for being the ritual chair for so many years when other individuals needed to step down for a number of reasons. Ken was always there to take over and make sure that services ran smoothly, whether they were the more relaxed and relatively easy Shaharit services or the more complex logistics of the High Holy Day services. His charts and excel sheets provided the necessary structure that helped to make the services so successful and organized. And I cannot talk about High Holy Days without mentioning Len Solomon who had the arduous task of seat assignments.

and then physically labeling the seats so that people did not feel lost when they came into services. Such a small aspect but yet, so important in helping to create a welcoming atmosphere! I also want to thank Jodie Diamand and Nina Mintzer for their logistical support for the Sisterhood Lunch & Learn, of which there were over 120 sessions over the last decade. Nina initiated it and Jodie, seeing a vacuum, just naturally stepped up to the plate when she realized that it was needed. She is also the one to chauffeur other members, who don’t have transportation, to synagogue events and services.

Marvin Wolfert, besides being the President a number of years ago, agreed to take on a leadership role that was crucial in planning the Educational Weekend that was so successful last year. But even more importantly, he has spent hours meeting with the strategic planning committee and with the committee at Temple Beth Abraham. Without his calm and patient leadership, Temple Shaare Tefilah would be facing a more uncertain and tenuous future.

Lastly, I want to publicly thank Carol Turkewitz for her tireless leadership. She is a true inspiration and role model. Her positive attitude, her optimism, her ‘can-do’ attitude has been the foundation upon which our congregation has flourished; her skills and attitude has helped us to successfully negotiate the rocky terrain of the last several years. Her energy and commitment to the synagogue is amazing and there are no words to adequately express my gratitude and deep respect for her. Temple Shaare Tefilah owes her a deep debt of gratitude because I firmly know that without her leadership, guidance and wisdom, the synagogue would not have been in the position to be able to move forward toward an equally-balanced merger.

So, thank you to all of you, for coming to services, for helping to cook, to participating in committees, to giving of your time and yourselves to the synagogue. You are what the synagogue is all about and will continue to be what it is about.

 May you always go from strength to strength.

Shalom,
Rabbi Andrea M. Gouze

Reaching out to intermarried families

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