Parashat Pinhas-- Numbers 25:10-30:1
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Questions for Young Children

• Should girls and boys get the same amount of anything that is handed out? Why?
• If you felt you didn’t get your fair share of something, who would you talk to and what would you say?

Questions for Older Children
• What do you think of Pinhas “taking the law into his own hands” and killing Zimri and Cozbi? Did God think it was okay for Pinhas to do that?
• Do you think that Tzelofhad’s five daughters were right to complain to Moshe when the land was divided and their family would get none because there were no sons?
• Moshe is told he’s going to die and not enter Eretz Yisrael. What does the Torah tell you he worried about? What does that tell you about Moshe’s personality?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• This parasha is studded with unusual behavior by Pinhas, the five daughters of Tzelofhad, and Moshe. What are those behaviors and would you emulate these behaviors in similar circumstances? Which incident speaks to you the most? Are any of the behaviors abhorrent to you?
• Moshe designates Joshua as his successor. What traits do you know about Joshua already that commend him as a leader? Do we require different traits in leaders for different circumstances?
• Why not wait until entry into Eretz Yisrael to divide the land and to list the festivals and sacrifices?

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Pinhas is rewarded in this parasha for his zealous behavior in the previous parasha. Preparations for entry to Israel continue with a census of the men between twenty and sixty. B’nei Yisrael are told that the land of Israel is to be divided by lottery among the tribes. One thorny issue that Moshe defers to God is who inherits when a man has no sons. God decides the daughters of Tzelofhad make a good case for female inheritance. Not only land inheritance issues are decided in this parasha, but also who will inherit Moshe’s leadership. Following God’s directions, Moshe invests Joshua with the responsibility. In the poignant section 27:12-17 Moshe sees Eretz Yisrael from afar and is reminded by God that he will not enter the Land. The most frequently read section of the parasha lists the sacrifices and offerings for festivals, Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh and every other day.

Find the food connection...

 רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ

...a pleasing odor. Numbers 28:13 (and other verses)

Ray’ah nihoah, a pleasing odor wafting from the grill --without the meat.


The Side Dish
In discussing Parashat Naso, I mentioned the genius of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai who abolished the trial by ordeal described in that parasha. This week’s parasha reminds me again of the genius of the rabbis who survived the destruction of the Temple and were able to reimagine a living, breathing Judaism out of the ashes of the Temple. For me, that ability to think with creativity and flexibility begins in this parasha with b’not Tzelofhad. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah, and Tirzah, the five daughters of Tzelofhad, were willing to challenge the status quo after their father’s death and ask Moshe and all the important men of the tribe if they could inherit their father’s land so that his name would not be “lost to his clan just because he had no son.” (27:4) Moshe takes the question to God and God deems the claim a just one. God amends the laws for the sake of justice. Rabbis have had to wrestle with difficult decisions for centuries but had they not followed the example of flexibility in new circumstances, Judaism might have developed very differently or might have not remained vital.

The women are heroines who challenge the system with respect and out of a desire to preserve their father’s name. They act as a unit—all five daughters step in front of Moshe, the chieftains, the kohen and the entire august assembly to plead their case. In addition to providing a model of bravery, the sisters model family unity after their parent’s death.

A major question for post-Temple rabbis was what to do about sacrifices.  We see the results on Rosh Hodesh and holidays now when we read about the sacrifices from this parasha during the maftir rather than performing sacrifices.  

Today there is no lack of questions and challenges for current halakhic authorities.  One challenge playing out now in Israel began with the Women of the Wall who have been challenging the current rules at the Kotel (Western Wall) since 1988. Moshe and the leadership of B'nei Yisrael learned to think about women in a new way.  I hope that the Israeli government can model that flexibility and reverse its reversal of 2016 to create a space at the Kotel for women and men to pray together.



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A Dash of T’filah

Next time you read the Shabbat musaf amidah, examine the t’filot (prayers) that follow the kedushah. The rabbis created these prayers to substitute for animal sacrifices. What did the rabbis intend for us to think about as we recite the middle section of this amidah? What do you think of the alternative version in the conservative or reform siddur? What bothered the rabbis who created the alternative?

A Dash of Torah Reading Advice and Etymology
Isheh / Ishah
Read the above words—are they different, the same? In the Torah scroll they look exactly the same (aleph-shin-hey) because there are no vowels in the Torah scroll. In this parasha it’s critical to note which of the two words appear. In chapters 28 and 29 the word isheh appears numerous times since it means a sacrifice. If the reader vocalizes it as ishah, the reader is suggesting a woman as a sacrifice. Readers and gabbayim, take heed, and correct this mistake so you’re not mistaken for a misogynist! The roots of the two words are different. The root of isheh (offering), is the same as the root for aish, fire. Isha (woman) is derived form the three letter root, enosh, human being. The nun has disappeared from the word ishah.

A Dash or More of Dugmah (example)
It’s easy to dismiss this parasha as a series of lists, but buried within are three different samples of exemplary behavior. Those of you who have been camp counselors at Ramah may remember the very explicit teaching from Debbie Porten z”l. Counselors referred to this teaching as dugmah dogma. She taught counselors that actions speak to campers louder and more eloquently than words. See if any or all the examples in this parasha resonate with you. Pinhas, the five daughters of Tzelofhad, and Moshe all wrestle with difficult dilemmas and make a choice. Do you see a unifying theme in all the characters beyond this struggle?

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Fragrant Vegetable Kebabs with Mediterranean Herbs
Pareve--serves 4 to 6

Ingredientsrsz 08 pinhas vegetable kebabs copy copy


Use a variety of vegetbales for crunch and visual as well as olfactory pleasure. If you use hard vegetables like carrots, parboil before grilling.

  • 1 green, red, or yellow pepper, cut in 1” squares
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-2” slices
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut in 1” cubes
  • 4 large mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • Marinade
    2/3 cup olive oil (or safflower)
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar (or other flavored vinegar or lemon juice to suit your seasonings)
  • 1/2 cup fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup fresh thyme
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • optional-1 Tbsp. zatar


  1. Combine marinade ingredients and toss in a bowl with the vegetables.
  2. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
  3. Drain vegetables and reserve the marinade.
  4. Thread the vegetables on skewers leaving the mushrooms until the last minutes of cooking.
  5. Baste skewered vegetables with reserved marinade, place on the grill and turn frequently until vegetables are cooked and glazed with the marinade.

Thunderstorm? Try broiling indoors.

Change the herbs to suit your meal. For a Mexican flavor, use cumin and coriander. For Asian, try 5 spice powder and cilantro. You can mix the herbs with the marinade or wash and bundle fresh herbs and place on the upper rack of a gas grill to infuse the vegetables with a fragrant scent.

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