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Parashat Pinchas ("Phineas")

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July 30, 2016
Tammuz 24, 5776

Fast of Tammuz

Pinchas
 

Num. 25:10-30:1
[Table Talk]

1 Ki. 18:46-19:21
Jer. 1:1-2:3 *

Rom. 11:2-32

 

Three Weeks of SorrowThree Weeks of Sorrow

Mourning for Zion...

According to Jewish tradition Moses shattered the tablets on the 17th day of the 4th month, after he came down from Sinai and found the people worshipping the golden calf. Today, this tragic date is commemorated as a fast day (i.e., the "Fast of Tammuz"), which marks the beginning of a three week period of mourning that culminates on Tishah B'Av (i.e., the date when the people tragically believed the evil report of the spies and were sent into exile).

During this three week period of national mourning, the weekly readings from the prophets are all "Haftarahs of Rebuke" that warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven, and therefore the theme of most Jewish religious services is teshuvah (repentance). In addition, weddings or other joyous events are usually not held during this time of year. Indeed, among the very Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most rigorous and solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the most solemn fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.

Dates During the Three Weeks of Sorrow: 

This year the Fast of Tammuz begins at dawn on Sunday, July 24th and lasts until sunset. Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, August 13th and ends Sunday, July 14th at sunset.

Parashat Pinchas ("Phineas")

Last week's Torah (Balak) introduced us to Phinehas (i.e., Pinchas), the son of Eleazar the priest (and grandson of Aaron), who, during the rebellion at Baal Peor, zealously removed evil from Israel by driving a spear through a tribal prince who was brazenly cavorting with a Midianite princess in definace of God's law. On account of Pinchas' zeal for the Torah, God stopped the plague and Israel was delivered from destruction...

This week's portion (Pinchas) begins with the LORD rewarding Pinchas by granting him a "covenant of peace" (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם) and officially promising to incorporate him into the priestly line of Israel. This promise was remarkable because Pinchas was technically not qualified to be a priest, since he was already born when the original promise was given to Aaron and his sons, and since his father Eleazar was married to an "outsider" namely, the daughter of Jethro (also called Putiel, Exod. 6:25).

After Pinchas was honored before the people of Israel, the LORD commanded Moses and Eleazar to conduct another census of the people (this was 39 years after the Exodus from Egypt), with the result of 601,730 men between the ages of twenty and sixty (1,820 less that the original census taken at the start of the journey). Moses was then instructed on how the land was to be divided by lottery among the tribes and families of Israel. The daughters of Zelophehad then petitioned Moses that they be granted the portion of the land belonging to their father, who died without sons, and God accepted their claim and incorporated it into the laws of inheritance.

The LORD then commanded Moses to climb mount Abarim to "see the land which I have given to the children of Israel," though he was forbidden to enter it because he struck the rock twice at Kadesh. God then told Moses to appoint Joshua bin Nun as his successor who would lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land.

Parashat Pinchas (like parashat Emor in Leviticus) also includes mention of all of the (sacrifices of the) mo'edim (holidays) given to Israel (Num. 28). These include the daily (tamid), weekly (Shabbat), monthly (Rosh Chodesh) sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices assigned to the special holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hoshannah (Terumah), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.  Remembering the joys of the Temple and the special celebrations of the Jewish people are thought to add a contrast to the otherwise somber time of reflection during the Three Weeks of Sorrow.

Blessing before Torah Study:

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Some terms:

  • Parashah is the weekly Scripture portion taken from the Torah. Each parashah is given a name and is usually referred to as "parashat - name" (e.g., parashat Noach). For more information about weekly readings, click here.
     
  • Aliyot refer to a smaller sections of the weekly parashah that are assigned to people of the congregation for public reading during the Torah Reading service. In most congregations it is customary for the person "called up" to recite a blessing for the Torah before and after the assigned section is recited by the cantor. For Shabbat services, there are seven aliyot (and a concluding portion called a maftir). The person who is called to make aliyah is referred to as an oleh (olah, if female).
     
  • Maftir refers to the last Torah aliyah of the Torah chanting service (normally a brief repetition of the 7th aliyah, though on holidays the Maftir portion usually focuses on the Holiday as described in the Torah).  The person who recites the Maftir blessing also recites the blessing over the Haftarah portion.
     
  • Haftarah refers to an additional portion from the Nevi'im (Prophets) read after the weekly Torah portion. The person who made the maftir blessing also recites the blessing for the Haftarah, and may even read the Haftarah before the congregation.
     
  • Brit Chadashah refers to New Testament readings which are added to the traditional Torah Reading cycle. Often blessings over the Brit Chadashah are recited before and after the readings.
     
  • Mei Ketuvim refers to a portion read from the Ketuvim, or writings in the Tanakh. Readings from the Ketuvim are usually reserved for Jewish holidays at the synagogue.
     
  • Perek Yomi Tehillim refers to the daily portion of psalms (mizmorim) recited so that the entire book of Psalms (Tehillim) is read through in a month. For a schedule, of daily Psalm readings, click here.
     
  • Gelilah refers to the tying up and covering the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) as an honor in the synagogue.
     
  • Divrei Torah ("words of Torah") refers to a commentary, a sermon, or devotional on the Torah portion of the week.

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