This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, (Num. 25:10 – 30:1) shows us God’s decisions in two different episodes in the wilderness. The first is one of the most disturbing and painful passages in Torah, and the second is one of the most forward thinking and hopeful.
At the outset of the portion, Israelite men are consorting with foreign women and worshiping their idols. Pinchas, the presumptive high priest, deals with the most blatant of these occurrences by taking up his spear and killing the offenders in the sight of the entire community. God appears to approve of Pinchas’ action; ending the plague that had been afflicting the Israelites, and granting him God’s covenant of peace and promise of the priesthood to his descendants through all time. After all the laws the Torah has prescribed for Pinchas could serve as the model for every act of violence committed in the name of religious purity from that time on.
Later in the Torah portion, five women, the daughters of a man named Zelophehad, come to Moses with a cause. The Israelite inheritance laws contain a flaw, they contend. Their father died without having any sons, and they ought to inherit his portion, rather than have it go to strangers. Moses takes the matter to God, Who confirms that the case of the daughters is just, and they should receive their father’s holding.
So we have a case of a person in power acting with egregious rashness and receiving God’s blessing for his act, followed by the inherent fairness of allowing the daughters of a man who had no sons to receive his property and carry on his name. Like life, the Torah presents contradictions and conundrums, and we must accept it as it is, wrestle with it and try to make sense of it all.