Address: 91 Leinster St, Saint John, NB E2L 1J2
Sophie Bigot-Goldblum, CY Student, 2018-19
Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, Adat Shalom, Los Angeles, CY Student 2013-2014
This week’s Parashah of Pinchas contains the sections of Torah most often read during the year. Its description of the Jewish calendar is not only read this week, but we also read sections from Parshat Pinchas on every Rosh Chodesh (new month), and on most Chagim (holidays) during the year. The Jewish calendar sets the foundation for Jewish life during the year, and Pinchas can be found in almost all of it.
One can argue that Jews in Israel have the calendar woven into their everyday lives, which might make the calendar more meaningful, or might allow Israeli Jews to take the calendar for granted. On the other hand, Jews in the diaspora must consciously take time off of work to celebrate the Jewish calendar, constantly explaining to our neighbors the significance of these days. One can argue that these efforts make our appreciation of the holidays greater, or perhaps we are always trying to fit the round peg of our Jewish Holidays into the square hole of our diaspora culture.
However, there are other parshiyot that recap the holidays, such as Mishpatim and Emor. Why then is Pinchas read and reread so often during the year? There must be a message within Pinchas that separates it above other parshiyot and elevates it to its status as the one read most often.
At the beginning of the Parshah, God promises Pinchas “a covenant of the eternal priesthood.” (Num. 25:13) Why is this necessary since the priesthood is already promised as an eternal lineage to Aaron’s descendants, and Pinchas is Aaron’s grandson? Concerning this verse, Rashi points out that Pinchas was born before the anointing of Aaron and his sons and had not yet been anointed. This idea is also recounted in the Babylonian Talmud. (Zevachim 101b)
Pinchas’s character proves that each of us has the ability through our merit, through our actions, to earn our place as one of God’s holy priests. ” You shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Ex. 19:6) the Torah tells us. Why would the Torah say this if the priests were only a specific lineage not open to most of us Israelites? Because Pinchas proves that he can earn a higher status. Judaism teaches that we can improve our lots in life. And we develop our standing, and our family’s standing, through the experience of the Jewish calendar. All of us know families who stand out when it comes to their incredible Shabbat dinners, or their ability to host fun Passover Seders. Those families raise their status through the calendar.
Pinchas symbolizes an instinct, a spirit, inside of every Jew to stand up and unapologetically express their Jewish identity. For some of us, it’s natural in our surroundings. For some of us, it’s less comfortable. For all of us, it’s necessary.
The Jewish Calendar affords us many opportunities to prioritize our Judaism overwork, over hobbies, over the rest of our lives. And when we come together as a community, or as a family, whether it be on Shabbat or Chagim, we are exercising the Jewish muscle in our being. Let’s make time this week to sit together with our loved ones on Shabbat. Let’s call our loved ones and wish them all Shabbat Shalom. Let’s build those times into our calendar routine. I promise it will make our lives more meaningful.
Some of us might be born into the priestly class. Some of us might be born as Israelites. Regardless, I’d argue that all of us have to earn our status as a holy nation. It begins with the way we treat our loved ones and our neighbors. It begins with the way we spend our sacred time. It begins with the memory of Pinchas.