Parshat Pinchas -
Understanding a Strange Progression of Parshiyot

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

Should Chumash have ended in Parshat Pinchas? Obviously not. Yet, in the middle of this week's Parsha (27:12-23), we find the story of Moshe Rabbeinu's 'death' and the transfer of his leadership to Yehoshua! But that's not all - virtually every parshiya in Parshat Pinchas seems out of place.

In this week's shiur, we attempt to understand how and why.

[Note of literary convention:

To appreciate the complexity of the internal structure of Parshat Pinchas, we must first consider our conclusions (from our shiur in Parshat Naso) regarding the overall structure of Sefer Bamidbar and its chronological order.

Recall that the primary topic of Sefer Bamidbar was its narrative - i.e. the story of Bnei Yisrael's journey from Har Sinai towards Eretz Canaan. However, that narrative is periodically 'interrupted' by certain parshiyot of mitzvot (e.g. the laws of: sotah [chapter 5], nazir [6], n'sachim and challa [15], para-aduma [19], etc.). Because it is primarily a story, we expect the narrative sections of Sefer Bamidbar to follow in chronological order. In contrast, many of the mitzvot that are found in Sefer Bamidbar were originally given to Moshe Rabbeinu at an earlier time (at Har Sinai). Therefore, the location of these mitzvot within Sefer Bamdibar reflects their thematic connection (albeit, at times only tangential) to the ongoing narrative, and not necessarily when these commandments were first given.

As we expected, up until Parshat Pinchas, the narrative of Sefer Bamidbar has followed chronological order. [For example, the first ten chapters discuss Bnei Yisrael's preparation for their journey, while the following 15 chapters discuss the various rebellions that occur during that journey.] However, towards the beginning of Parsha Pinchas, we confront a serious problem.

Defining the Problem
Subsequent to Bnei Yisrael's sin with the "b'not Moav" (see 25:1-15), God commands Moshe to avenge the Midyanites in battle:

"And God spoke to Moshe, saying: Attack the Midyanites and defeat them, for they attacked you by trickery..." (25:16-18)
One would have expected Chumash to continue with the story of that battle. But that's not what happens! Instead, the details of that battle are recorded only some five chapters later - in the middle of Parshat Matot:
"And God spoke to Moshe, saying: Avenge the Israelite people on the Midyanites... [Then] Moshe spoke to Bnei Yisrael: Choose men for battle, and let them attack Midyan to avenge God's anger with Midyan..." (see 31:1-2; compare with 25:16-18)
In the interim (i.e. chapters 26-30), we find several seemingly unrelated topics!

Most students of Chumash never notice this problem for a very simple reason. In chapter 26, which immediately follows the commandment to avenge the Midyanim (25:16-18), God commands Moshe to conduct a census of the twelve tribes:

"And it came to pass after the plague, God told Moshe... take a census of Bnei Yisrael from the age twenty and up, l'beit avotam (by their ancestral houses), all who are able to bear arms." (26:1)
Upon reading this opening pasuk, one's immediate assumption is that this census is part of the preparation for the impending battle against Midyan. However, this apparently logical assumption is incorrect! Much to our surprise, as the details of this census unfold, it becomes clear that this census has nothing at all to do with the battle against Midyan. The Torah explicitly states the purpose of this census at its conclusion:
"... This is the total number of Bnei Yisrael: 601,730.
And God spoke to Moshe saying: Among these shall the land be appointed as shares, according to the listed names; the larger the group, the larger the share..." (see 26:51-54)
This census, better known as "Mifkad HaNachalot," served as the basis for the apportioning of the Land after its conquest. [This explains why the census is conducted "l'beit avotam" - by the ancestral houses (see 26:1). The Land is to be distributed according to the size of each family unit (see 26:52).]

[Note also how this census differs from the earlier census, in Bamidbar chapters 1-2, where the family names are omitted.]

Further proof to the irrelevance of this census with regard to the war against Midyan emerges from the details of that battle. When Bnei Yisrael go to war, God orders the draft of only one thousand soldiers from each tribe (see 31:4-6). Why would God command Moshe to conduct a comprehensive census of over 600,000 soldiers if only 12,000 soldiers are needed? Obviously, this census in no way relates to the imminent battle against Midyan.

We have thus shown that the logical continuation of chapter 25 - the commandment to fight Midyan - is chapter 31 - the details of that battle. Hence, chapter 26 (the census) interrupts the narrative flow. Now, we must examine the remaining chapters between chapter 26 and chapter 31 and see how they fit - or don't fit - into context.

In those 'interim' chapters, we find some six topics, all of which, like the census, are unrelated to "milchemet Midyan" (the war against the Midyanites).

Board #1, summarizing chapters 25-31, illustrates how the natural flow from chapter 25 to chapter 31 is interrupted by these 'interim' parshiyot (A-F).

Clearly, none of these topics relates to "milchemet Midyan." Nonetheless, the Torah records them here in Parshat Pinchas. To understand why, we must first determine where each of these parshiyot (i.e. A-F) does belong.

A) The Census - "Mifkad HaNachalot"
As we explained above, the Land of Canaan will be apportioned based on this census. Or, as that parsha itself concludes:

"Among these shall the land be apportioned as shares, according to the listed names: with larger groups increase the share; with smaller groups reduce the share. Each is to be assigned its share according to its enrollment..." (see 26:52-54)
The key phrase in these verses, indicated in bold in the quotation, points us directly towards Parshat Masei, where we find an almost identical commandment concerning the procedures for occupation:
"When you cross the Jordan into the Land of Canaan... you shall take possession of the land and settle it... You shall apportion the land among yourselves... with larger groups increase the share; with smaller groups reduce the share... You shall have your portions according to your ancestral tribes..." (see 33:50-55)
Review these psukim and note how this commandment in Parshat Masei is almost identical to the one recorded at the conclusion of the census in Parshat Pinchas (see above 26:52-54)!

Furthermore, Parshat Masei contains numerous other commandments concerning the occupation and distribution of the land. [For example: the precise borders of Eretz Canaan (34:1-15), the list of tribal leaders who will conduct the distribution (34:16-29), the cities of the Leviim and the cities of refuge (chapter 35), etc.]

Hence, the census in Parshat Pinchas really belongs in Parshat Masei! (See Board #2.)

B) B'not Tzlofchad
This incident (27:1-11) takes place immediately after the completion of the census (read 27:1 carefully). The daughters of Tzlofchad express to Moshe their concern that their father's inheritance will be lost forever.

Thus, this short 'parsha' is clearly a direct continuation of the Mifkad HaNachalot (chapter 26), as it, too, involves the procedure of occupation. It certainly has nothing to do with "milchemet Midyan." Therefore, like the previous section dealing with the census, it belongs in Parshat Masei. [In fact, the story of "b'not Tzlofchad" actually does continue in Parshat Masei - see chapter 36!] (See Board #3.)

C) Moshe Rabbeinu's Final Day
In the next parsha (27:12-14), God commands Moshe to take a final glance of the Promised Land prior to his death:

"And God told Moshe: Ascend Mount Eivarim and view the land which I am giving to Bnei Yisrael; then you will be gathered unto your people, just as Aharon was..."
In other words, the time has come for Moshe to die. Obviously, this commandment should have been recorded at the very end of Chumash, prior to Moshe's death; surely, it does not belong in the middle of Parshat Pinchas! [To verify this, simply compare it to Devarim 34:1-6.]

[Furthermore, even if it does, somehow, belong in Sefer Bamidbar, it should appear only after "Milchemet Midyan," which begins with: "And God spoke to Moshe: Avenge the Midyanites... afterward you shall be gathered to your nation" (31:2).] (See Board #4.)

D) Appointing Yehoshua as the New Leader
The next parsha (27:15-23) is simply Moshe's reaction to the imminence of his death - his request that God appoint a successor. Clearly, both these parshiyot [(C) and (D)] belong together, only somewhere towards the end of Chumash, definitely not in the middle of Parshat Pinchas! (See Board #5.)

E) Korbanmot T'midim U'Musafim
The next two prakim (chapters 28-29) feature the schedule of the various korbanot musaf that are offered on special occasions in 'addition' [=musaf] to the daily tamid sacrifice. Obviously, this parsha of mitzvot doesn't belong here, for it has nothing to do with ongoing narrative. Rather, it should have appeared in Sefer Vayikra, most probably in Parshat Emor, together with the other laws of korbanot and holidays (see Vayikra chapter 23). [In fact, Vayikra 23 directly refers to this parsha each time it says, "v'hikravtem ishe la'Hashem..." (note also 23:37!).] (See Board #6.)

F) Parshat Nedarim
The mitzvah of "nedarim" (vows) is yet another parshia of "mitzvot" (as opposed to narrative) and could actually be understood as a direct continuation of parshat t'midim u'musafim. The final pasuk of the section of korbanot states that these sacrifices were brought "in addition to your nedarim..." (see 29:39!). In any case, it is clearly unrelated to "milchemet Midyan." (See Board #7.)

So What's Going On?
Based on this analysis, it becomes clear that the Torah has intentionally 'interrupted' the story of the war against Midyan with several unrelated parshiyot! The obvious question is: why?

To answer this question, we must first group these six interim parshiyot (i.e. A-F above) into two basic categories, as shown in Board #8. This division may help us determine where each of these two units belongs.

The first unit (I) contains parshiyot involving Bnei Yisrael's preparation for entering the land. As we explained, these parshiyot belong in Parshat Masei. To illustrate this point, Board #9 traces the progression of parshiyot from the story of "milchemet Midyan" through the end of Sefer Bamidbar.

This table clearly shows that the final topic of Sefer Bamidbar is the preparation for entering Eretz Canaan (33:50-36:13). Thus, there can be no doubt that chapters 26-27 in Parshat Pinchas, which deal with this very same topic, actually 'belong' here at the end of Sefer Bamidbar. In fact, the story of the transfer of leadership from Moshe to Yehoshua would have been a most fitting finale for Sefer Bamidbar.

The second unit, containing the laws of t'midim u'musafim and nedarim, clearly belongs in Sefer Vayikra. However, this phenomenon should not surprise us, for this is not the first time that we have found a parshiya in Sefer Bamidbar that seems to have been 'transferred over' from Sefer Vayikra. [See introductory shiur to Bamidbar. Later in the shiur we will suggest a reason why specifically these mitzvot were 'transferred' from Vayikra to Bamidbar.]

Cut and Paste?
Based on this distinction, we can now redefine our question: Why does the Torah 'cut' these parshiyot from Parshat Masei (where they seem to belong) and 'paste' them here in Parshat Pinchas, after the story of Bnei Yisrael's sin with "b'not Moav?"

To answer this question, we must take a closer look at the opening pasuk of chapter 26.

Using a Tanach Koren (or similar), note that there is a parsha break smack in the middle of this pasuk!:

"Vayhi acharei ha'mageyfa - and when the plague was over

[space = new parsha in the middle of the pasuk]

and God told Moshe... Take a census of Bnei Yisrael..." (26:1-2)

This strange 'parsha break' in the middle of the pasuk indicates that something here may be out of place. Yet, at the same time, it also points to a special connection between this census and the plague that resulted from Bnei Yisrael's sin with "b'not Moav."

In other words, we find yet another example of how Sefer Bamidbar deliberately moves a 'parshia' which may actually 'belong' somewhere else, in order that we ask ourselves: 'What is the thematic connection between these two seemingly unrelated parshiyot?'

We will now suggest a reason for this juxtaposition based on the overall theme of Sefer Bamidbar.

The Last Plague
Recall that Sefer Bamidbar depicts Bnei Yisrael's journey from Har Sinai towards the Promised Land. Ideally, that journey should have taken only a few weeks, and the Land should have been settled by those who left Egypt. Instead, various forms of rebellion ensue, culminating with Chet HaMeraglim and God's decree of death for this generation. Then, even in the fortieth year, we find additional incidents where Bnei Yisrael sin (and are punished): 21:4-10 [nechash hanechoshet] and 25:1-6 [chet B'not Moav].

As we have seen, this 'travel section' of Sefer Bamidbar (chapters 11-25) is characterized by rebellion, punishment and death. However, the "mageifa" [plague] unleashed in the aftermath of "chet b'not Moav" can be considered a milestone, marking the last incident of their sinful behavior and their last punishment before entering the Land.

Hence, the survivors of this plague are basically the final survivors of the forty years in the desert. They are to become the inheritors of Eretz Canaan!

By interjecting the Mifkad HaNachalot specifically at this point, despite the evident, chronological disruption, the Torah may be underscoring that the tragic events of Sefer Bamidbar have finally come to an end. Those who survived this plague are worthy of inheriting the Land.

This interpretation is supported by the concluding statement of that census, recorded after the Leviim are counted:

"These are the persons counted by Moshe... Among these there was not one of those counted by Moshe and Aharon in Midbar Sinai (chapters 1-2)... For God had said of them: They shall die in the wilderness. Not one of them survived, except Kalev ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua bin Nun." (26:63-65)
In fact, in his opening address to the nation in Sefer Devarim, Moshe Rabbeinu emphasizes this very same point:
"Your very own eyes have seen what God has done to Ba'al Pe'or, for anyone who had followed Ba'al Pe'or [i.e. chet b'not Moav] - God has destroyed him from your midst [via the 'mageifa']. But you - who have remained loyal to your God - are standing here alive today!" (see Devarim 4:3-4)
In a similar manner, we can explain why this census is followed by God's command to Moshe to ascend Har HaEivarim to die and the transfer of his leadership to Yehoshua. Since this census focuses on the 'inheritance' of the Land of Israel, the Torah records the transfer of leadership from Moshe to Yehoshua immediately following the census. It will become Yehoshua's duty to lead the new generation to conquer and settle the Land.

[See 'Further Iyun' section for a discussion of Rashi's approach.]

T'midim U'Musafim - Why Here?
Now that we have explained why the Torah moves chapters 26-27 (the first category) from Parshat Masei to Parshat Pinchas, we must now explain why the Torah moves chapters 28-30 (the second category) from Sefer Vayikra to Parshat Pinchas.

As we explained in our shiur on Parshat Naso, this is only one example of mitzvot that belong in Sefer Vayikra but are recorded in Sefer Bamidbar. As was the case regarding the other instances, we must look for a thematic connection between these laws and the ongoing narrative. In other words, we must ask - what is the connection between the laws of t'midim u'musafim and Bnei Yisrael's preparation for entering Eretz Canaan?

Once again, we return to the theme of Sefer Bamidbar to suggest an answer.

Recall that the first ten chapters of Sefer Bamidbar describe Bnei Yisrael's preparation for their journey from Har Sinai to the Promised Land. Those chapters emphasize the intrinsic connection between the camp of Bnei Yisrael and the Mishkan. Bnei Yisrael must travel with the Mishkan, signifying the continuous residence of the Sh'china (the Divine presence) in the center of the camp (see shiur on Parshat Bamidbar).

Now, forty years later, as the Torah describes Bnei Yisrael's preparation for entering the Promised Land, Chumash emphasizes this very same point by recording the laws of t'midim u'musafim in Parshat Pinchas. We can suggest two bases for the conceptual relationship between this parsha and the census:

The korban tamid reflects both the collective nature of Am Yisrael's relationship with God ["korban tzibur"] as well as the value of the contribution of each individual ["machtzit ha'shekel"]. As Yehoshua prepares to lead Bnei Yisrael into a new era, these principles of the "avodat Tamid" - collective purpose, individual responsibility, and daily routine - must serve as a guiding light for the entire nation. Virtual ClassRoom enhancements by Reuven Weiser.

For Further Iyun
A. The interpretation presented in the above shiur can explain why Rashi (26:1) quotes two Midrashim to explain why this parsha of the census appears in Parshat Pinchas.

While the first Midrash focuses on the connection between the plague and the census, the second Midrash focuses on the connection between the census and the transfer of leadership from Moshe to Yehoshua.

B. Note Ramban's explanation why the parsha of Moshe's "death" is written at this time (in Parshat Pinchas).
What issue led Ramban to this conclusion?

C. The story of Bnei Gad and Reuven (chapter 32) could be considered part of the nachalah section.

D. Use our explanation of the importance of the korban Tamid to explain why each Korban Musaf in Parshat Pinchas concludes with the phrase, "milvad Olat HaTamid ..."

E. Compare the names of the family groups in the census in Parshat Pinchas ["l'beit avotam"...] to the names of the original seventy members of Yaakov's family who went down to Egypt (see Breishit 46:8-27). Can you find any significance in this parallel?

[To whom was this land first promised?]

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