Thoughts on Parashat Pinchas

This week’s parasha, Pinchas, Numbers 25.10 though 30.1,[i] continues with last week’s episode where Bnei Yisrael linked themselves with Baal Peor in an idolatress relationship that apparently included adulteress relationships with foreign women, specifically Moabites and Midianites.  This week begins with HaShem’s statement concerning Pinchas, who’s the actions brought about an end to the plague (25:7-9),

See, I am making with him a covenant of shalom! It will be for him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood—because he was zealous for his God and atoned for Bnei-Yisrael.” (25.12-13)

Aside from the everlasting priesthood of Pinchas and his line, there were other consequences of this Balaam inspired episode. First, twenty-four thousand individuals died due to a disciplinary plague from HaShem (25.9). Aside from that, was the prohibition of an Ammonite or Moabite joining the congregation of Israel.

No Ammonite or Moabite is to enter the community of Adonai—even to the tenth generation none belonging to them is to enter the community of Adonai forever –  because they did not meet you with bread and water on the way when you came out from Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor from Petor of Aram-naharaim to curse you. But Adonai your God refused to listen to Balaam, and Adonai your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because He loves you. (Deuteronomy 23.3-6)

So intense was the idolatress situation, that according to Deuteronomy the children were punished for the sins of the fathers to the tenth generation, not just the third or fourth. According to Rashi, An Ammonite [or Moabite] shall not enter [the assembly of the Lord]: [i.e.,] he shall not marry an Israelite woman. [Yev. 77b][ii] That being the case, how is it that Boaz, the great-grandfather of King David, married a Moabitess? Looking at Ruth 4.18-22, we see that in the genealogical list from Perez (Numbers 26.20-21) to Boaz, Boaz is seventh in line, not tenth. However, the sages noted that the seventh place was potentially unique. The 7th generation from Adam was Enoch, “who walked with God” (Genesis 5.24). Then there was Eber, the 14th generation from Adam, who according to rabbinic tradition, was the teacher of Jacob (Megillah 16b, 17a). He was also a great prophet (Genesis Rabbah 37:7) and moral authority (Genesis Rabbah 52:11). This type of 7th generation history may apply to Boaz because he was a man of high moral and ethical character who saw something equally special in the Moabitess Ruth (Ruth 3.10). But not only did Boaz recognize something special in Ruth, so did the elders and townspeople,

All the people at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May Adonai make the woman who has come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, who both built up the house of Israel. May you prosper in Ephrath and be renowned in Bethlehem. (Ruth 4.11)

Not only did Ruth enter into the community of Israel, but it was prophesied that she would become a matriarch like “Rachel and like Leah.”

Personally, I find something else here in the last verses of Ruth. It is often acknowledged that Ruth is the classic example of a convert to Judaism, based upon Ruth’s declaration to Naomi,

For where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. (Ruth 1.16-17)

But even having said this, throughout the book of Ruth, she is called Ruth the Moabitess. That is until Boaz “acquired” Ruth the Moabitess (4.10), after which the community blessed her union with Boaz (4.11). The next time Ruth is mentioned, she is simply Ruth, Boaz’s wife and mother of his child, Obed (4.13). No longer were Ruth or Naomi outcasts or destitute. They were now fully restored to the community.

In this week’s Haftarah, Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3, we read of the beginning of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry. First HaShem claims that even before He formed Jeremiah, in his mother’s womb, HaShem knew Jeremiah (1.5). ידע or know, carries with it more than just a mental ascent, the nuance indicates that even before his was formed, HaShem considered them in relationship to one another. Then, out of the knowing and the forming, HaShem called Jeremiah to prophetic ministry – before his was born. This is not a new occurrence in the Tanakh; both Samson and Samuel were set apart from before their birth to the service of ADONAI. Also in this narrative, like Moshe at the bush that burned but wasn’t consumed (Exodus 3.2), Jeremiah tried to convince HaShem that he was not qualified to do whatever it was that the LORD wanted him to do. And like Moshe, Jeremiah cited his inability to speak properly, “Then I said, “Alas, Adonai Elohim! Look, I don’t know how to speak! For I’m still a boy!” (Jeremiah 1.6; cf. Exodus 4.10). HaShem’s response was just as quick to Jeremiah as it had been to Moshe,

For to everyone I send you, you will go, and all I command you, you will speak. Do not be afraid of them! For I am with you to deliver you.” It is a declaration of Adonai. Then Adonai stretched out His hand and touched my mouth and Adonai said to me, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, today I have appointed you over nations and over kingdoms: to uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1.7-10; cf. Exodus 4.11-12)

It would appear that Rav Shaul may have taken these two episodes (Moshe’s and Jeremiah’s fears) to heart when he encouraged Titus, “But as for you, speak things that are fitting for sound instruction. … So, communicate these things, and encourage and correct with complete authority. Let no one look down on you” (Titus 1 & 15). When the LORD calls or designates someone for His service, He also equips and empowers that one. Both Pinchas’ zeal and Ruth’s love and devotion, seemed to be beyond the norm, even possibly divinely inspired. In Moshe and Jeremiah’s cases, they had the assurance from HaShem of their calling and empowerment – they just needed to accept it and then walk in it, which is what Rav Shaul seems to have encouraged Titus to do. It would be safe to assume that each of us have heard from the LORD as to specific things we have been called to do. Is there any excuse we are using that is keeping us for accomplishing the calling of the LORD on our lives?

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.


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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.