Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron (Numbers 25:10)

Why does G‑d refer to Pinchas as “the son of Elazar the son of Aaron”? Because the tribes of Israel were mocking him, saying, “Have you seen this son of the fattener, whose mother’s father (Jethro) fattened calves for idolatrous sacrifices, and now he goes and kills a prince in Israel?” Therefore, G‑d traces his lineage to Aaron.

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 82b)

Few professions are as cruel and inhumane as the fattening of calves for slaughter. So when Pinchas slew Zimri, many said: “Look at this holy zealot! He acts as if motivated by the desire to avenge the honor of G‑d and save the people, but in truth he has merely found a holy outlet for his cruel and violent nature. After all, it’s in his blood—just look at his maternal grandfather . . .” So G‑d described him as “Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron” in order to attest that in character and temperament he actually took after his paternal grandfather—the compassionate and peace-loving Aaron.

The true greatness of Pinchas lay in that he acted in complete opposition to his nature, transcending his inborn instincts to bring peace between G‑d and Israel.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

I give to him My covenant of peace (25:12)

Pinchas is Elijah.

Said G‑d to Pinchas: You made peace between Israel and Me in this world. So too, in the world to come, it is you who shall make peace between Me and My children. As it is written (Malachi 3:23–24): “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of G‑d. He will return the hearts of fathers to children, and the hearts of children to their fathers.”

(Yalkut Shimoni)

It shall be to him, and his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood (25:13)

Although the priesthood had already been given to the descendants of Aaron, it was given only to Aaron and his [four] sons, who were anointed together with him, and to the children they would father after their anointing. Pinchas, however, who was born before that time and was not himself anointed, did not enter the priesthood until now. Thus we have learned in the Talmudic tractate of Zevachim (101b): “Pinchas did not attain the priesthood until he slew Zimri.”


When Pinchas entered Zimri’s tent, thousands of members of the tribe of Simeon converged upon him to slay him, and his soul flew from his body in fright. At that moment G‑d sent the souls of Nadav and Avihu (Aaron’s two eldest sons, who died on the day that the Sanctuary was dedicated—see Leviticus 10) and they entered into his body; at that moment, Pinchas became worthy to become the high priest. . . . Thus the verse says of him, “Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron”—he was now both the son of Elazar as well as the son of Aaron . . .

(Zohar; Me’am Loez)

For they are enemies to you, in their plottings against you on the matter of Peor (25:17)

How do we know that one who causes a man to sin is even worse than one who kills him? . . . Two nations advanced against Israel with the sword, and two with transgression. The Egyptians and the Edomites advanced against them with the sword, as is proven by the texts, “The enemy said: I will pursue, I will overtake . . . I will draw my sword” (Exodus 15:9), and “Edom said unto him: You shall not pass through me, lest I come out with the sword against you” (Numbers 20:18). Two advanced against them with transgression, namely the Moabites and the Ammonites. Of those who had advanced against them with the sword it is written, “You shall not abhor an Edomite . . . you shall not abhor an Egyptian” (Deuteronomy 23:8). Of those, however, who had advanced against them with transgression, endeavoring to make Israel sin, it says, “An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of G‑d . . . even to the tenth generation shall none of them enter . . . for ever” (ibid. v. 4).

(Midrash Rabbah)

It came to pass after the plague that G‑d spoke to Moses . . . “Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel . . .” (26:1)

To what is this comparable? To a shepherd into whose flock there entered a wolf and killed many of them, so he counts them to know how many remain.

Another explanation: It is like the case of a shepherd to whom an owner entrusted his flock by number; when the shepherd came to the end of his time, on returning them he had to number them again. When Israel went out of Egypt, G‑d entrusted them to Moses by number (as per Exodus 12:37 and Numbers 1:1); now that Moses was about to depart from the world in the plains of Moab, he returned them by number.

(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)

These are the families of the Simeonites: twenty-two thousand and two hundred (26:14)

The commentaries explain this large reduction in Simeon’s population as due to the fact that the Simeonites were the major culprits in the worship of Peor with the daughters of Midian (Zimri, who was killed by Pinchas, was the “prince” and leader of the tribe of Simeon; according to the Talmud, his motive was to legitimize the transgressions of his tribe). Many Simeonites were executed for their crimes (as per Numbers 25:5), and they constituted the greater part, if not all, of the 24,000 who perished in the plague. (Midrash Tanchuma; Rashi)

This was not the only instance in which the people were so decimated. We read of plagues and other catastrophes following the sins of the golden calf, the “complainers,” the lust for meat, the spies, the unauthorized push to enter the Land, and the rebellion of Korach and its aftermath. Indeed, other tribes also show a fall in population (though none as drastic as Simeon’s), and the people as a whole are also fewer by nearly 2000, despite the natural increase one would expect after a full generation. (In contrast, the children of Israel swelled from 70 souls to 600,000 in the 210 years they were in Egypt.)

The commentaries further note that whole families have been wiped out. There are now five Simeonite clans instead of six; Gad has likewise lost a family, and Benjamin has lost five. Rashi cites an account in the Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 1:10) of a civil war that was fought following the death of Aaron, when the Israelites were attacked by a Canaanite army. Many Jews fled with a mind to return to Egypt, retreating eight “stations” in their journey through the desert, from Hor HaHar to Moserah. The tribe of Levi waged war with them to force them back, and seven Israelite families—and four Levite families—died in battle.

To the more numerous you shall increase their inheritance, and to the fewer you shall lessen their inheritance. . . . Nevertheless, the land shall be divided by lot . . . whether many or few (26:54–56)

The commentaries offer different approaches to explaining the apparent contradiction in these verses. Rashi says that the land was divided into twelve provinces of different size, taking into account the difference in population among the tribes. Nevertheless, the question of which province should go to which tribe was determined by lot; miraculously, the lot matched the more populous tribes with the larger provinces and the less populous ones with the smaller provinces.

Nachmanides says that the land was divided into 12 equal portions (not necessarily equal in size, since the quality of land was also taken into consideration), and the matching of provinces to tribes was done by lot. Thus each tribe received an equal share, regardless of population. The instruction that “to the more numerous you shall increase their inheritance, and to the fewer you shall lessen their inheritance” refers to the division of the land within the tribes: each tribal head divided his tribe’s portion among the families of the tribe in accordance to the number of members in each family (as determined by the census taken here).

Another opinion is that the lottery determined the location of each tribe’s portion, but not its size, which was adjusted in accordance with the tribe’s population.

(Me’am Loez)

However these verses are understood, the implication is that the Torah is insisting that two different—even conflicting—dynamics be involved in the apportionment of the land: a rational division, which takes into account empirical data such as population figures and the quality of the land; and a supra-rational lottery, whose workings are beyond human comprehension and control.

There is also a third factor involved: the concept of “inheritance”—a word that appears repeatedly in these verses in connection with the apportionment of the Land. Inheritance is neither “rational” nor “supra-rational.” An heir is not receiving a particular portion of land by some logical criteria or by some esoteric formula, but as his “birthright”—as something that is inexorably bound to his essence, something that belongs to him by virtue of who and what he is.

Our portion in life, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, includes all three dynamics.

There are the events and opportunities which shape our lives, giving rise to decisions and choices on how best to fulfill our purpose. One man will choose to be a Torah scholar, another will ascertain the hand of divine providence pointing him to the business world, while a third will interpret a G‑d-given talent as directing him to become an artist. This is the “rational” means by which we receive our “portion in the land.”

But then there are the circumstances and experiences that “befall” us in a seemingly random and arbitrary manner. A person will often mistake these for “chance.” But these are no less the hand of divine providence than the rational side of life. In fact, they express a more profound involvement by G‑d in our lives—an involvement that is too lofty to be captured by any logical formula, so that our earthly eyes can perceive it only as an “arbitrary” casting of lots. These are gifts that are too potent to be tapped with the conventional tools of intellect and instinct; we can only open ourselves to their possibilities.

Finally, we each have those moments in life when our “inheritance” comes to light. Moments which are not driven by our reason, nor by the transcendent forces that impact our lives, but by the very essence of who and what we are—by that deepest self that is one with its Source.

Life is the sum of these three elements. To live is to develop and optimize one’s consciously understood faculties. To live is to be receptive to the mysteries of life, to learn to recognize and respond to the opportunities implicit in the most esoteric turns of fate. And to live is to be attuned to the core of truth in the core of one’s soul—to one’s heritage as a child of G‑d.

The daughters of Tzelafchad approached . . . (27:1)

When the daughters of Tzelafchad heard that the land was being divided among the tribes but not among the women, they convened to discuss the matter. They said: G‑d’s mercy and compassion is not like the compassion of man. Mankind favors men over women. G‑d is not like that; His compassion extends to men and women alike.

(Yalkut Shimoni)

The daughters of Tzelafchad approached . . . (27:1)

In that generation, the women repaired what the men broke down.

You find that Aaron told them: “Break off the golden rings which are in the ears of your wives” (to make the golden calf—Exodus 32:2), but the women refused and held back their husbands, as is proved by the fact that it says (ibid. v. 3) “All the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears,” the women not participating with them in making the calf.

It was the same in the case of the spies, who uttered an evil report: “The men... when they returned, made all the congregation to murmur against Him” (Numbers 14:36), and against this congregation the decree [not to enter the Land] was issued, because they had said: “We are not able to go up” (ibid. v. 31). The women, however, were not with them in their counsel, as may be inferred from the fact that it is written in an earlier passage of our Parshah, “For G‑d had said of them: They shall surely die in the desert. There was left not a man of them, save Caleb the son of Yefuneh . . .” (ibid. v. 65).

The men had been unwilling to enter the Land; the women petitioned to receive an inheritance in the Land.

(Midrash Rabbah)

They stood before Moses . . . saying (27:2)

The daughters of Tzelafchad were wise women, they were exegetes (i.e., well-versed in the methodology of expounding Torah law) and they were virtuous.

They were wise, for they spoke at an opportune moment. . . . Moses was sitting and holding forth an exposition on the section of levirate marriages (the law that if a person dies without “seed,” his brother should marry his widow to “establish for his brother an heir in Israel”—Deuteronomy 25:5–10). They said unto him: “If we are like a son (i.e., if we are considered “seed”), give us an inheritance as to a son. If not, then our mother should be subject to the law of levirate marriage!” (The law states that levirate marriage can take place only if there is no issue at all, male or female.)

They were virtuous, since they would marry only such men as were worthy of them. . . . Even the youngest among them was not married before forty years of age. (This is deduced from the fact that Tzelafchad died in the first year after the Exodus, and his daughters’ petition was in the fortieth year; thus the youngest of them could have been less than 40 at the time. Yet this occurred before their marriage, as evidenced from Numbers 36.)

(Talmud, Bava Batra 119b)

He died in his own sin (27:3)

Rabbi Akiva says: he was the wood-gatherer (Numbers 15:32–36). Rabbi Shimon says: He was among those who stormed the mountain to enter the Land (ibid. 14:40–45).

(Talmud; Rashi)

The daughters of Tzelafchad wished to strengthen their argument, “Why should the name of our father be eliminated [from those receiving a portion in the Land]?” by stressing that their father was not guilty of his generation's spurning of the land. According to the opinion that he was the “wood-gatherer,” he died many months before the spies’ mission (according to the Talmud, the incident of the wood-gatherer occurred on the second Shabbat after the giving of the Torah). And if he was one of the “mountain stormers,” their sin was that they so deeply regretted falling prey to the spies’ evil report that they erred in the other direction, and lost their lives in the effort to enter the Land in violation of the divine decree.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Moses brought their judgement before G‑d (27:5)

Moses prayed to G‑d to concede to their request and to permit them a portion in the Land.

(Maor v’Shemesh)

If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter (27:8)

The Kabbalistic masters taught that every soul has a “portion in the land”—a piece of G‑d’s world that he or she has been charged to sanctify. Thus a person’s mission in life can be seen as consisting of two primary objectives: a) the refinement and elevation of his own soul, self and character; b) the refinement and elevation of his “portion” of the material world, by developing the material resources which have been placed under his control or influence as a “home for G‑d”—a place that serves and houses the divine truth. The latter objective is the essence of the mitzvah to “conquer the land of Canaan” and transform it into a “Holy Land.”

(This was the failing of the “generation of the desert”: while they achieved an “Exodus from Egypt,” a liberation from the bounds that constrict the soul, they were unwilling to assume the challenge of “conquering the land”—transforming the material world into a home for G‑d.)

The nature of the material is that it is resistant and hostile to G‑dliness. “Conquest of the land,” it would therefore seem, requires that a person go to battle with the material world, suppress and subjugate its materialistic nature, and impose on it a higher purpose and function.

But not everyone is a warrior. The Talmud says of the human race, “Just as their faces are different, so are their characters different.” There are bold characters and meek characters, aggressive natures and passive dispositions; there are those who revel in challenge, and those who are all but devoid of the warrior instinct and the zeal for confrontation. Are the latter exempt from the mission to “conquer the land”? And if they are not, how are they to achieve it?

Therein lies the deeper significance of the laws of inheritance as commanded by G‑d in response to the petition of the daughters of Tzelafchad.

Before the daughters of Tzelafchad came along, common wisdom ascertained that if a person lacks a “son”—an aggressive and combative nature—he or she may deduce from this that he has no role to play in the “conquest of the land.” Such a person may therefore devote all his energies to the refinement of his inner self, and leave the task of sanctifying an unholy world to those with “sons.”

The daughters of Tzelafchad knew otherwise. Conquering and settling the land, they insisted, is not an exclusively masculine endeavor. True, this is a task which often calls for aggressiveness and confrontation; but there is also a feminine way to transform the materiality of our lives into a “Holy Land.”

G‑d agreed. “If a man has no son,” He instructed, “you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter”—his “portion in the land” can be possessed and developed by the passive, compassionate, non-confrontational side of his soul.

This is the law of life revealed by the daughters of Tzelafchad: Not all conquests are achieved by overpowering one’s adversary. At times, receptiveness and empathy are equally, if not more, effective in overcoming the hostility of the “enemy” and transforming its very nature. The absence of a “male heir” in the soul may in fact indicate the presence of a feminine self no less capable of claiming the soul’s portion in the world and transforming it into a “home for G‑d.”

(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

G‑d of the spirits of all flesh! Set a man over the people (27:16)

So said Moses to G‑d: “Master of the universe! You know the soul of each and every individual; You know that no two are alike. Appoint for them a leader who can relate to each and every one of them in accordance with his individual spirit.”


Who shall take them out and who shall bring them in (27:17)

This is like the parable of a king who saw an orphan maiden and wished to marry her. He sent her messages proposing to her, but she said: “I am not worthy to marry a king.” He proposed to her seven times, but each time she refused. After many entreaties, he married her. After a time, the king became angry at her and wished to divorce her. Said she to him: “I did not ask to marry you—it was you who pleaded with me. Now you have decreed to divorce me and marry another. Just don’t do to her what you did to me.”

In the same way, G‑d appeared to Moses in the burning bush and said to him: “Come now, I will send you to Pharaoh.” For seven days G‑d entreated Moses (as it says “Also from yesterday, also from three days ago, also from the time that You’re speaking with Your servant”—Exodus 4:10) and Moses declined, saying, “I am not a man of words.” In the end He convinced him, and Moses accepted the mission of leading the people out of Egypt. Then, after all the miracles were done through Moses, G‑d said to him: “You shall not bring this congregation into the Land.” Said Moses: “Master of the Universe! I did not ask to go. . . . Now that You decreed that not I should lead them into the Land, but another, do not do to him what You did to me. [Set a man over the congregation] who shall take them out and who shall bring them in . . .’”

(Yalkut Shimoni)

Who shall go out before them and who shall go in before them, who shall lead them out and who shall bring them in (27:17)

Rabbi Israel Salanter was once asked to explain the Talmudic prediction (Sanhedrin 97a) that in the days before the coming of Moshiach “the face (i.e., the leadership) of the generation will have the face of a dog.”

Said Rabbi Israel: “Have you ever seen a man and a dog walking? The dog always runs ahead. So to the casual observer it seems that the dog is the leader. But every now and then the dog turns around to see where his master wants to go, and changes direction accordingly.

“Today, our world abounds with such ‘leaders.’ But a true leader is not one who merely ‘goes and comes before the people,’ while looking over his shoulder to see if they are still following him. He is also the one who ‘takes them out and brings them in’—who leads them where he knows they must go.”

You shall place of your glory upon him (27:20)

“Of your glory”—but not all your glory. The elders of that generation said: The countenance of Moses was like that of the sun; the countenance of Joshua was like that of the moon. Alas, for such shame! Alas for such reproach!

(Talmud, Bava Batra 75a)

My offering, My bread (28:2)

The people of Israel provide nourishment for their Father in Heaven.


The Talmud (Berachot 10a) points to the relationship between the soul and the body as a model for the nature of G‑d’s relationship with the world. The soul cannot be perceived by the senses, yet its presence and effect is keenly felt in every part of the body; so too G‑d, though He transcends our reality and is utterly beyond its perception, vitalizes the entirety of creation and is fully present in its every part.

This explains the amazing statement by the Zohar that “the people of Israel provide nourishment for their Father in Heaven.” Food is the glue that keeps soul and body together, sustaining the embodiment of the spirit within its material shell. By the same token, our service of G‑d is what sustains G‑d’s involvement with His creation, “feeding” His desire to continue to infuse it with existence and life.

Thus G‑d refers to the korbanot, the animal and meal offerings brought in the Holy Temple, as “My bread.” The korbanot (and their present-day substitute, prayer) are the highest expression of our striving to serve G‑d and come close to Him; as such, they are the “food” which sustains the life of the universe, the fuel that keeps the divine soul “alive” within the body of creation.

(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

You shall observe to offer it to Me in its appointed time, two each day, a regular offering (28:2-3)

The “appointed time” of the regular offerings is every day.


The communal offerings include temidin—“regular” or “perpetual” offerings brought each day in the same format—and musafin—“additional” offerings brought on special occasions (Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, the festivals) which differ in accordance with the nature of the day.

In our own lives there also exists this division: there are the “routine” things, such as the fifteen breaths we take each minute and the job we troop to each workday; and there are the “special” things we do once in a while or once in a lifetime. Both are crucial to a fulfilling and satisfying life. The offerings—and their present-day substitute, prayer—include both temidin and musafin, to teach us that our relationship with G‑d should likewise embrace the surety of the routine on the one hand, and the excitement of the occasional on the other.

But when speaking of the two daily offerings, the Torah uses the term moed, “appointed time”—a phrase generally reserved for the festivals and other occasionally occurring observances. This means that the Torah also urges us to transcend these categorizations and experience a sense of specialty and occasion also in the “regular” rhythms of life. As Rashi comments on the verse, “The ‘appointed time’ of the regular offerings is every day.”

(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

The eighth day shall be a time of retreat for you. . . . You shall offer a fire-offering to G‑d, a sweet savor: one bullock (29:35)

Said Rabbi Elazar: To what do the seventy bullocks that were offered during the seven days of Sukkot correspond? To the seventy nations. To what does the single bullock of the eighth day correspond? To the unique nation (Israel). This may be compared to a mortal king who said to his servants, “Prepare for me a great banquet”; but on the last day he said to his beloved friend, “Prepare for me a simple meal, that I may derive pleasure from you.”

(Talmud, Sukkah 55b)