Sunday, January 6, 2013

#168 - Saving the Best for Last

Just about all of us have done it, especially when it comes to our favorite desert - it may be ice cream of which we eat the chocolate last because it tastes best, or with a cupcake of which we eat the top pudding last.

Of course, when it comes to the Torah, we know that the greatest Tzadikim (righteous people) featured in the Chumash (Penteteuch) are Moses and Aaron.  However, there is someone related to them who is quite unique.

In this week's Parshat Va'era, the Torah lists particularly the families of the first three Tribes.  Now, Rashi points out that the reason why particularly the first three Tribes is because Jacob in his blessings to the Tribes, gave them more like rebukes for past misdeeds, and so to make it up to them, these three in particular are the featured tribes in this Parsha.

Even without this, the Torah perhaps would have recorded the details on at least the family of the Tribe of Levi, since the Torah mentions Moses and Aaron as brothers in them midst of this, as in the context of the Parsha, both of them came to Pharaoh to demand the Jews' exodus from Egypt.

In any case, getting into details about Aaron's family, there is a whole verse that mentions his son Elazar marrying and being the father of Pinchas.

And when in the Torah is Pinchas mentioned again?  At the end of Parshat Balak, we see that Pinchas took a spear and thrust it into the bodies of Zimri Ben-Salu, leader of the Tribe of Shimon and Kosbi Bat-Tzur the Midianite princess.   Following this, in the beginning of the next Parsha that is named after him, Hashem rewards him for his courageous act, by awarding him with the eternal Kehuna (priesthood).

Now wait a minute.  If Pinchas was the son of Elazar and the grandson of Aaron, as recorded as such in the beginning of Parshat Pinchas, then how come only at this point was he awarded with the Kehuna, as though he had no connections with it beforehand?  Isn't it true, as we all know, that a person is a Cohen particularly if one on his parental line is descended all the way up to Aaron?

The truth is that yes, Pinchas was in fact excluded from the Kehuna at the time of the dedication of the Tabernacle,and it was only Aaron and his sons who were sanctioned as Cohanim, and from henceforth, all children born to them would be Cohanim.  However, Pinchas was not included since he was born to Elazar BEFORE his father, uncle(s), and grandfather were anointed as Cohanim.

Now, after all is said and done, we see that it was meant for Pinchas to be a Cohen only once he performed the brave act that stopped the sexual braziness cold turkey.  However, why did Pinchas in particular have to "prove" himself before he could become Cohen as the son of Elazar and the grandson of Aaron?

Now, let us rewind the Jewish history tape to the time that the brothers Shimon and Levi killed the town of Shechem for not protesting the rape of their sister Dinah.  Aside from their father Jacob questioning their behavior at the time, but in fact cursed their anger that brought them to kill the Shechem inhabitants  in his blessings to his children on his deathbed.  So the question can be asked is, did in fact Shimon and Levi do the right thing?

The truth is yes, Shimon and Levi did the right thing, but not for the right reason.  You see, as Jacob mentioned to them in what was more of a rebuke than a blessing, it was this same anger that brought them to their treatment of Joseph that led to his being sold as a slave.  And so, while Jacob could have lived with their "radical" behavior, it was what brought them to kill the inhabitants of Shechem and their anti-good treatment of Joseph - their anger.  And so, Jacob wishes for his sons Shimon and Levi, as the future Tribes, not to have a portion in the land.

Now, what do see as the end result?  Shimon is awarded land within Yehuda's territory but not as his own area, and Levi is assigned cities to live in, but not as territory that he owns, but rather, as reward or payment for the tribe fulfilling its levitical duties.  We also see that unlike Zimri, as descendant of Shimon who avenged forbidden sexual sin, himself dumped himself right into it; Pinchas, as a descendant of Levi, also avenged forbidden sexual sin.  So, why the difference between the two?  If anything, this is quite ironic, for Shimon, as the older of the two brothers, took vengence, and so we would say that it was Shimon who initiated this; but instead, we see that it was Levi who took the reward at the end, even as Jacob criticized his anger as well.

The truth is that Shimon also received his reward for the good deed - his was the picture of Shechem on the flag as an everlasting rememberance of what he did.  However, his tribe was no better than any of the others when it came to serving Hashem, except for the tribe of Levi, of whom not even one resorted to idol worship and in full faith, circumcised their babies regardless of the circumstances in Egypt and in the desert, and in fact, totally escaped the Egyptian slavery since they never went out to help Pharaoh build as they refused to leave their Torah learning, and so, were never made into slaves.  Hence, even though both Shimon and Levi demonstrated their anger at a later point at Joseph, showing that their deed of slaying the evil inhabitants of Shechem was not with pure motives, since all of Levi's descendants were pious people, it wound up that the only rectification that they needed for Levi's not totally sincere motives was for another member of the tribe to be in a similar situation, but do it totally for the right reason.

And this was Pinchas.  It was more than avenging a sister's rage out of anger.  To begin with, Pinchas didn't want the Jewish people to be endangered by the actions of Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, as was already beginning.  For all he knew, if Zimri wouldn't kill him in self-defense, then others, especially from the tribe of Shimon, would want a price on his life.  And so, when he killed the evil Zimri, it was done purely for the right motives.  Hence, now that Pinchas acted out of Mesirut Nefesh, giving of one's self, and in cases like this, taking a chance of being killed, he rectified the incomplete part of Levi's good deed, and in turn, he received the reward of now being a Cohen along with his descendants, which he wasn't awarded with earlier along with his father and grandfather, for he didn't meet earlier qualifications in terms of inheriting the priesthood.

Moreover, as Rashi notes, while Shimon the tribe consisted basically of poor people, including teachers and scribes, along with the land that they had only within Yehuda's territory, Levi wasn't awarded with land because "Hashem is his inheritance", and in terms of livelihood, had an easier and more respectiful way of earning it with the tithes giving to his tribe by the rest of the Jewish people as commanded by Hashem for their service in the Temple.

And as for poor Shimon, aside from the picture of Shechem on the tribal flag, that was the extent of that.  In fact, our rabbis tell us that because of what Zimri, leader of Shimon, did, his tribe was the ONLY tribe that did not merit having any judges or leaders of the Jewish people.  And as for the city of Shechem itself, that got included within Joseph's territory, and for good reason.  As we know, Joseph passed the sexual temptation test that his master's wife attempted to seduce him with, and so, it was only fitting that he be awarded, and be buried himself, in the city that was conquered avenging the sexual sin of raping sister Dinah.

Now, this is all nice, but what does this have to do with Gematria?  I already mentioned about Shechem in terms of Gematria in my previous post, and so I have no reason to repeat it here.  However, the Gematria that I am referring to is to Pinchas.

To begin with, both the name of this week's Parsha, and the name Pinchas which first appears in this Parsha, have the same Gematria - 208.  It is also quite significant, because of all the names of the members of the first three tribes that are mentioned in this Parsha, Pinchas' name is the last, signifying the good deed that he would do in the last year that the Jews were in the desert before entering Israel, which is the last year that takes place in the Chumash.

Now, as Pinchas was especially rewarded for his deed to protect the holy covenant as related to sexual purity, noting that the first three verses of Parshat Pinchas describing Pinchas' reward is recited before a Brit Mila (circumcision), it is most worthy to note that his name is the same Gematria as the name Yitzchak.  And as we know, Yitzchak was the first born Jew and the first one to have his Brit Mila performed on the eighth day as commanded in the Torah.  In fact, in the beginning of this week's Parshat Va'era, it states Va'era El Avraham V'El Yitzchak V'El Ya'akov "I (Hashem) appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob", and accordingly, the name Yitzchak is also the same Gematria as this week's Parshat Va'era!

Now, taking a look at Parshat Pinchas, it consists of 168 verses (and this is my 168th post).  And if we note about Yitzchak, he was the  21th generation by parental line from Adam & Eve, the ancestors of mankind,  who was the first person to have his Brit Mila on the eighth day.  And if we multiply these two numbers 21 & 8, the total yields 168.

But there is more to this magic number.  Noting that the latter half of Parshat Pinchas is all about the daily, Sabbath and holiday offerings in the Temple, there are exactly 168 laws in Hilchot Temidin U'Musafin - which includes the laws on these offerings - in Mishneh Torah of the Rambam (Maimonides).  And knowing about Pinchas' brave act, aside from the fact that he was rewarded with the Kehuna which would now make him eligible to offer sacrifices in the Sanctuary, he in effect offered his life on the line with his heroic deed of killing a leader of one of the tribes   In fact, the Sefer Torah is read more times from this Parshat Pinchas than any other Parsha in the year, because first of all, we read the offerings of Rosh Chodesh on every Rosh Chodesh (except for Rosh Hashana which is technically Rosh Chodesh Tishrei), and the holiday offerings are likewise read on each of their respective holidays.

And while this number itself may not be so familiar to everyone, there are 168 days in a 24 week period, and as we well know, there were 24 shifts of Cohanim (as well as Levi'im) who took turns serving in the Beit HaMikdash on a weekly basis.  In fact, while originally, there were four shifts from the two sons of Aaron - Elazar & Ithamar each; eventually, considering the fact that there were many more Cohanim from Elazar than Ithamar - the division was made as 16 shifts from Elazar while only eight from Ithamar, bearing in mind that presumably, Pinchas was Elazar's only son.  In fact, there are Cohanim today that can trace their Kehuna lineage all the way back to Pinchas.  And in this year, there are exactly 24 weeks from this week during which we read Parshat Va'era until the week of Parshat Pinchas, bearing in mind that the names of these two Parshiyot have the same Gematria.

And having mentioned earlier about the city of Shechem, while featured on the flag of the Tribe of Shimon while the city itself was given over to Joseph, Rashi notes that Pinchas was also descended from Joseph.  But in Pinchas' case, it wasn't simply a blood connection, but a spiritual connection as well, because Pinchas defended the concept of spiritual purity which Joseph worked hard on to attain between the sexual temptation that he went through and being careful later on not to look at the women throwing congragulatory things at him upon becoming viceroy of Egypt.  And speaking of which, the letters of the name of the holiday of Pesach are included in Pinchas' name, the holiday that celebrates our exodus from Egypt that was precipitated by the start of the Makkot (plauges) that Hashem struck the Egyptians with towards this goal as detailed in this week's Parshat Va'era that first mentions Pinchas' name.

Finally, let me not forget to do the same thing with the number of this post as I did with the numbers of my previous two posts - reverse the number.  Hence, reversing the number 168 becomes 861, which is the Gematria of both the words Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and the name Matisyahu - my second Hebrew name that I named myself nearly five years ago.  The connection here to the Beit HaMikdash is quite obvious as there were a total of 168 days in a 24 week period during which one of the 24 watches of both the Cohanim and LevĂ­'im took turns serving in the Beit HaMikdash.  And as for Matisyahu ben Yochanan Cohen Gadol who like Pinchas, slew a deviant Jew in his zealousness to maintain Judaism for the Jewish people when he saw him offering a pig on an altar in the latter's attempt to attract Jews to join the goyishe ways of the Syrian Greeks, and started a revolution that led to the holiday of Chanuka upon rededicating the Beit HaMikdash.  However, he wasn't the first one to have the name Matisyahu.  You see, this was the name of the 14th watch of the 24 watches of the Levi'im, and to note, the name Pinchas is first mentioned in Parshat Va'era, the 14th Parsha of the Torah.   And speaking of watches, it was none other than King David, whose name is the Gematria of 14, who finalized the 24 watches of the Cohanim and Levi'im.

25 Tevet, 5773

No comments: