What Truly Counts?

 Alizah Brozgold, a congregant who is a psychologist, filled in for Rabbi Koster, who was on vacation, at July 11 Shabbat services. Alizah connected the weekly Torah portion from the Book of Numbers, to the terrible events taking place in Israel and Gaza. We asked Alizah if we could post her beautiful reflection on our blog.

From Alizah:

            This week’s Torah portion is from the 25th chapter of the Book of Numbers.

            You might be thinking that this particular book of the Torah is one you wouldn’t be much interested in reading.  You might be thinking along the lines of Albert Einstein who wisely said, – “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”  In fact, this portion contains many lessons of relevance to our lives today related to both counting and what truly counts.

             We read in this Torah portion of counting in several contexts:  a census taking of the Israelites, as well as a long list of the sacrifices required at the Holy Temple for different occasions.  We read of the four daughters of Zelaphichad who appeal to Moses for an inheritance of land since their father had no male heirs.  We read of pairs, for example, Moses and Joshua, as Moses hands down his role of leadership to Joshua before the Israelites enter the Promised Land.  And in a story that resonates with the tragic cycle of violence in Israel today, we read of another couple – an Israelite man and a Midianite woman who are brutally slain by an Israelite named Pinchas when they flagrantly display their love for each other by the Temple altar.  Pinchas seems like the model of the first ‘vigilante’ – he takes justice into his own hands in the context of punishing a couple who violate the norms of their society in which they cannot be together. And why is it that Pinchas appears to be rewarded by God for his heinous act, as Pinchas is offered God’s “briti shalom” – “My covenant of peace”, and his descendants are offered the covenant of the priesthood.

Dvar Torah, Page 2

Parshat Pinchas

           As Rabbi Burkeman in his Dvar Torah on the URJ website comments, on the surface, the Torah appears to reward Pinchas for his actions, as Burkeman says, “a worrying precedent for the actions we have witnessed in this past week.”  When we look a little deeper, however, there is more to the story because God brings him into a covenant of peace. By making him a priest, God “removes him from the realm of violence and war, placing him squarely in the realm of peace and ensuring that Pinchas will never again be in a position to bring death and destruction.”

            Today we also have in mind other ‘counts’:  the three Israeli teenagers,Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach who were kidnapped and killed as they hitchhiked to their homes, the Palestinian teenager from East Jerusalem, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and killed in an apparent revenge attack.  We’re also counting the 350 Israelis who went to the home of Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s family to express their condolences for his senseless murder, and the thousands of Israeli reservists who have been called up for military duty.

             As we hold all these numbers in mind, thinking back to Einstein’s quote, what truly counts here? What counts is that we do what we can in our own lifetimes and societies to help justice and mutual understanding evolve above and beyond what we read in Parshat Pinchas.  Whether we are standing up for the rights of those who are oppressed or in some way dismissed, discounted, or ‘othered’, God’s covenant of peace must be reclaimed and reimagined in every generation.  For the Israelis and for the Palestinians, we pray that peace will come with all our hearts.