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Pinchas (Phinehas)

Numbers 25:10 to 30:1(29:30), First Kings 18:46 to 19:21


There are two schools of thought for translating the census numbers. However, only one is consistent with scripture. Consider, as an example, the following phrase from verse 26:7

shloshah v'arba-eem elef oo'sheva may-ot oo'shlosheem
three and forty ?? and seven hundreds and thirty

Since the word elef usually means "thousand", the most common translation for the number of adult men of Reuven given in this verse is 43,730. But another interpretation has been proposed by scholars who doubt that either Israel or the nations they fought were so numerous: for military issues elef should be translated "military unit", so the above phrase would become "43 military units, consisting of 730 men". This latter interpretation does not work, however, due to the totals at the end of the census. Verse 26:51 gives the grand total as either "601,730 men" (an accurate sum of the amounts previously listed by tribes, using the common translations) or "601 military units, consisting of 730 men" (not at all the total of 596 military units and 5,730 men from the amounts previously listed, using the second interpretation).

Traditional Jewish Commentary

God says Pinchas is rewarded with breet-ee shalom, "my covenant of peace". The vav in shalom is traditionally written small. This suggests there was either a scribal error or a purposeful scribal ambiguity. If the vav's dot changed, the word shalom would become sheeloom, making the phrase "my covenant of reward"—very sensible in context. If the vav was removed, the word becomes shalaym, making the phrase "my entire covenant", that is, including the commandments only for the priesthood.

Shimon had killed an entire city because of illicit relations. Now one of his descendents, Zimri, has an illicit relationship that harms many.

How much did the tribes' populations change?

TribeFirst CensusSecond Census
Reuven 46,500 43,730
Shimon 59,300 22,200
Gad 45,650 40,500
Yhudah 74,600 76,500
Yissakhar 54,400 64,300
Zevulun 57,400 60,500
Menasheh 32,200 52,700
Efrayim 40,500 32,500
Binyamin 35,400 45,600
Dan 67,700 64,400
Asher 41,500 53,400
Naftali 53,400 45,400
Levi 22,000 23,000

Shimon's huge decline (and the fact that Zimri was a prince of Shimon) has caused speculation that most of those who died by plague at Peor were from that tribe.

G.E. Mendenhall suggests that Zimri took Kozbi as part of a traditional/superstitious belief that the relationship (whether it recognized Kozbi's god(s) adultrously or through marriage) would stop the plague.

A midrash notcies that the word for anger used in verse 25:11, chamatee, spelled chet - mem - tav - yud, has the letters for mayt ("dead") surrounded by the letters for chai ("life"), and suggests that this type of anger is felt by God towards people who have spiritually killed themselves and are thus a soul dead to God within a living shell of a body.

Seforno proposed that the tribes with smaller population received less territory but more valuable land, so that each tribe's total inheritance had equal worth despite its differing size. The Torah Temimah agrees, but considers distance to Jerusalem as the primary measure of value.

Many people lost their lives, and thus the corresponding potential inheritances, in Korach's rebellion. The daughters of Tzlafchad thus must point out that their father was not part of this rebellion, and thus retained the right to his potential inheritance at the time he died.

Rashi comments that the daughters of Tzlafchad have their ancestry listed all the way back to Yosef, hinting that just as Yosef requested that his bones be brought to the Promised Land so too were these daughters requesting a family plot of land in which to bury their father.

The Or ha'Chayim teaches that the Torah includes a second description of holiday offerings after Yehoshua was ordained to emphasize that these offerings were not only for the time Israel lived in the wilderness, and the section begins with the words "Command the Children of Israel" to emphasize that public funds pay for these offerings, rather than Yehoshua the new leader.

The Rambam notes that the Shabbat Musaf (additional) offering and some details about the Nesachim (drink offerings) were not for the wilderness, but only for when dwelling in the Promised Land.

Only the Rosh Chodesh offering is called chatat laAdonai (an atonement offering to God), in Numbers 28:15.

Verse 29:1-2 says to "make" an olah offering on Rosh Hashanah, instead of the usual "bring" an offering. This, according to the P'sikta, is a reminder to dedicate our lives to God on Rosh Hashanah.