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JULY 18-19, 2003 19 TAMUZ 5763

Pop Quiz: From which tribe were the daughters of Selofhad?


"And Moshe brought their claim before Hashem" (Bemidbar 27:5)

The Israelites have traveled the desert for almost forty years and are about to enter the Land. Hashem tells Moshe that the Land will be divided according to the tribes and according to the heads of families within the tribes. Selofhad had passed away without any sons and he had five daughters. After hearing that only men were counted in preparation for the distribution of the land, these women complained that because they had no brothers, their family would be without a share. The Sifre says, "Hashem, who brought the world into being, has compassion for both males and females; His compassion is for all." These five women had a great passion for the Land of Israel. In recognition of their righteousness, Hashem gave them the honor of being the catalyst for the announcement of a new chapter in the Torah, the laws of inheritance. Few honors can be compared to that of being the vehicle for the revelation of G-d's word.

Rashi says that these women were extremely wise and used an argument for which Moshe was stuck for an answer. They said the following: If daughters don't count as children and don't inherit, then another law should kick in, the law of yibum. This law says that if a man passes away without children, his widow marries the deceased's brother and the children born will be considered like the sons of the deceased. In that case the new children will inherit Selofhad's portion and their family will receive a portion of the Land. And, if yibum doesn't apply because girls are counted as children, then the girls should inherit their father!

Rabbi Nissan Alpert says that this argument was so good that it could help explain an interesting question. The word "mishpatan" - their case - is written with an extra large "nun." He explains that the "nun" represents the Hebrew word "nefilah - downfall." What is the Torah telling us? That when faced with imminent downfall (G-d Forbid) the Jewish people can argue their case the same way. "Hashem, have mercy on us. If we are not like your children, why are we being persecuted so much, more than the other nations of the world? Even the Jews who have abandoned the Torah endure great suffering because they are Jews. And, if we are like your children, then have mercy on us like a father on his children." That's the meaning of the verse, "And Moshe brought their case before Hashem," with a large "nun" - that this same argument could be used to tear up a decree of destruction.

As we enter the three weeks, let us plead our case in this way to end the long exile of destruction. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

When Pinhas saw the Prince of the tribe of Shim'on doing a sinful act in public, he acted with zealousness and put the sinners to death. By acting with "jealousy" for the sake of Hashem, he stopped the plague from consuming the Jewish people, and was credited with saving the entire nation.

This act of zeal, although the appropriate response during this particular crisis, is not usually the way that Moshe and Aharon led the Jewish people during their years of leadership. We find Moshe almost always praying to Hashem, sometimes falling on his face and tearing his garments, and rarely getting angry at the people. However, there is always something that occurs during a crisis. Even crying out to Hashem and begging Him for His help is a response, in that we recognize the problem and realize there is nothing for us to do. What we don't find is that a problem arises and it's accepted as is, with no reaction at all. In our times, society is constantly putting pressure on our Torah way of life. When a situation becomes unacceptable and leads to a crisis, we must know not only to react, but how to react! Sometimes, what's needed is a soft word, sometimes a cry of anguish and maybe even an isolated act of zeal, but we can't just ignore or accept problems, hoping they will go away. When we see someone stuck on the road, we can either help out ourselves, give him a lift somewhere, or call someone else to help him. However, if we just slow down, rubberneck and see the situation and then do nothing, not only didn't we help out with the problem, we created more traffic problems. Life is like traffic; let's respond rather than rubberneck! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"Therefore, say: 'Behold I give him My covenant of peace,' and it shall be for him and his offspring after him, a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his G-d, and he atoned for the Children of Israel" (Bemidbar 25:12,13)

Why did Pinhas specifically receive such a reward?

Pinhas executed Zimri and Cozbi without first consulting Moshe. He took the law in his own hands and acted on the spur of the moment. With Moshe present, he was in the category of "moreh halachah bifnei rabbo - one who decides a halachic question on his own in his teacher's presence." Our Sages (Erubin 63a) have spoken out strongly against such conduct and identify three punishments for it: 1) The person is demoted from a position of authority. 2) He dies without children. 3) He is bitten by a snake. Since people might have though that Pinhas sinned and would ultimately be punished, Hashem emphasized that the opposite would be the case.

1) Because he sanctified Hashem's name, he would not be demoted, but rather elevated, receiving a "Covenant of Eternal Priesthood."

2) He would not, G-d forbid, die without children, but on the contrary, "it shall be for him and his offspring after him."

3) He would not be attacked by a snake or any other animal, but on the contrary, "I am giving him My Covenant of Peace." When the Torah promises shalom, as in Vayikra (26:6) "venatati shalom ba'aress - I will provide peace in the land," it clarifies that "I will rid the land of vicious animals." (Vedibarta Bam)


"Reuben, the first-born of Yisrael, the sons of Reuben, Hanoch the family of the Hanochi" (Bemidbar 26:5)

Rashi explains the Torah's intent in emphasizing B'nei Yisrael's genealogy. The gentile nations might think that they would be able to dominate the Jewish mothers, just as the Egyptians dominated the Jews' lives. Hashem, therefore, placed His Name upon them in everlasting testimony to their pure lineage. This statement seems puzzling. Do the gentiles study Torah so that they can become versed in our genealogy? Even if they were to study Torah, would they believe, as we do, in the Torah's immutability?

Rabbi Chaim Elazary explains that the Torah was given to Klal Yisrael to study and believe. Hashem did not intend to teach its profundities or truths to the gentiles. Indeed, the Torah has frequently stimulated anti-semitism throughout history. Hazal state that Har Sinai was the place from which sin'ah, enmity, towards Yisrael emanated. Torah will protect us only to the extent that it remains the source of our confidence and pride. Armed with this resource, we are enabled to confront the philosophical challenges that we face from external and even internal origins.

It is human nature to be affected by talk and innuendo. If the gentile nations slander our lineage, we may subconsciously begin to believe them. Such aspersions can succeed in causing depression and disbelief among the uneducated and spiritually weak. Therefore, the Torah seeks to counteract this negative influence and to affirm our belief in Hashem by clearly stating our genealogy.

The notion that we are transformed by the beliefs of others is very real. If people say something often enough, we will slowly begin to accede to their chatter. Although we may express total disdain and vehemently deny their allegations, our subconscious minds will begin to raise questions. This fear of subconscious impression can only be counteracted by total immersion in Torah. As the source of our pride and the benchmark of our identity, the Torah will give us the tools to face the challenges we confront throughout life. (Peninim on the Torah)


Question: Why is the Shabbat bread called hallah?

Answer: We have a misvah to remove a portion of bread when baking it (this applies to all bread, when baked in a certain quantity, not only the bread of Shabbat). The portion removed is called hallah.

Since, for Shabbat, many people bake bread themselves (while on weekdays they buy it), the bread of Shabbat is called hallah to remind us to remove the hallah piece during the baking of the bread. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


The beginning of this perashah discusses the episode of Pinhas and his zealous act. Alshich comments that there were many people who did not approve of the actions of Pinhas. There were some who were even prepared to kill Pinhas for his act of zealousness. However, this did not deter Pinhas from doing what he knew was right.

There are times when we see an injustice being done, yet we do not step in to try to correct the matter. Sometimes we prefer to "mind our own business." Other times, we feel that we aren't able to do anything about it, or we hesitate because we fear the criticism of others. We must always keep our objectives in focus and do what we can to protect Hashem's Name. If we do our part, Hashem will do the rest.

Question: Have you ever taken a stand on an issue which went against popular opinion? Does the concern of "what will they say about me?" ever prevent you from doing what you know is right?


This week's Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 1:1 - 2:3.

Every haftarah until this week has been related to the perashah in some way. However, after the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash, the Rabbis decreed that during the three weeks between Shib'ah Asar B'Tamuz and Tish'ah B'ab, special haftarot would be read. These haftarot detail the punishments that B'nei Yisrael would receive for their sins. Each haftarah, though, ends on a positive note with Hashem giving his guarantee that he will eventually redeem us. This week, Hashem declares that Israel is sacred to Him, and he will bring retribution to the nations that afflict Israel.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Menasheh.

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