10 Jul 2015

Pinehas 5775: Natural Woman

Pinehas 5775: Natural Woman

For most of history, Anonymous was a woman

Virginia Wolf

It could be said that the oldest battle of humanity is the ‘battle of the sexes’. Throughout history, the differences between men and women have contributed to everything from our best humour to our worst cruelty. The battle has raged so powerfully that it has even caused us to regularly question whether we really belong together. As Katherine Hepburn once put it: ‘Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then’.

It is intriguing that the Torah seems to see society’s level of respect and value for women as a central component of our collective success. In this week’s reading we learn that one of our worst breakdowns in history — the negative report of the spies concerning the Land of Canaan on the 9th of Av — was an event that specifically excluded the voice of women.

We are told of a new census that was taken forty years after the event by Moshe and Elazar the Kohen. This group was a new cohort devoid of the original males who had been counted forty years earlier by Moshe and Aharon[1]. The women, however, were alive and well:

These are those counted of the children of Israel by Moshe and Elazar the Kohen in the Plains of Moav, by Jordan-Jericho. Among these there was not a  man of those counted by Moshe and Aharon the Kohen when they counted  the Children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai.  (26:63-64)

There was not a man – but there were women, as they were not included in the   decree of the spies. For they loved the Land. The men said: ‘Lets head back to  Egypt!and the women said: ‘Let us inherit the Land!’       (Rashi, 26:64)

The women were left out of the fateful decree, for they rejected the men’s ill-conceived report. An anomaly at first glance, but things get more curious when we realise that it wasn’t just Tisha beAv that was a male-dominated failure. There is a pattern here. The 17th of Tamuz is the anniversary of the Golden Calf debacle, which was also a project in which the women refused to participate.

You find that when Aharon told them to take off their golden jewellery, the women  refused and condemned their husbands, as it says the nation forced off the   jewellery. The women did not participate in the  Golden Calf.       (Tanhuma, Pinehas, 7)

The three-week period in which we find ourselves, starting with 17 Tamuz and ending with 9 Av — a period traditionally called Ben haMetsarim or, “Between the Straits” (of sorrow) –  can be seen as a breakdown resulting from an insistence upon a patriarchal, male-dominated system.

It is fitting that in our parasha the daughters of Selofhad — each one prominently named — are showcased, standing up against a nation of men to challenge the inequity of inheritance they would suffer simply because they were female. G-d Himself, weighs in on their protest and comes out on their side[2].

Much of this ‘battle of the sexes’ has been fairly one-sided. Across millennia, women have been undervalued, unrecognised, disrespected and objectified, and much occurred in the name of what is ‘good and proper’. We have created a society in which saying that one does something ‘like a girl’ is often meant as an insult. Throughout time, the denigration of women in society has proven to be a sure way to hamper enlightenment and truncate development. When we observe societies in the world we invariably find that, as women are demeaned and disparaged, society is parochial and savage.

If there is a force in this world that has believed in, broadened, embraced, loved, graced, strengthened and empowered humanity, it is woman. And we owe her everything.

In these coming weeks, in which we mourn our national losses and fast in attempts to address them, we cannot ignore that at the heart of the matter lies our poor treatment of women. If we are going to truly address this mistreatment, one aspect we might do well to examine is how we raise our daughters. Do we encourage them to embrace their fullest identity? Do we genuinely seek and listen to their wisdom? Do we teach them about courage and bravery? Or, do we in some way, teach them to keep quiet, stand behind, and aspire to mediocrity? We must think long and hard about this, for something that has been so deeply ingrained in our culture for so long is not easy to alter and objectively address. Our best future and success depends, in no small way, on our ability to rehabilitate this societal handicap.

Margalit and I hope that our daughter will become the brightest, proudest, most successful woman that she can be, and that the only potential deterrent to her achieving those things should be the lack of her own will and resolve to do so. But we are also parents of sons who will become men. Their respect for women and understanding of this important lesson is equally important. In order for our daughter to thrive in this world, the men with whom she shares it must provide her with respect, honour and recognition.

Torah has often been seen in modern times to be an obstacle to that hope. Admittedly, certain customs and laws that were developed through history have not helped. But perashat Pinehas, the daughters of Selofhad, and the lessons of the fast days flanking the ‘Three Weeks’, show us an element of Torah that we might study more carefully and speak of more often. There is a strong tradition of the great value and importance of women in Torah. We need only to learn it and teach it.


1] 14:26-33

[2] 27:6-7


Law and Lore

About the Prayers

Barekhu II

Aside from saying ‘Barekhu’ before ‘Yotser’ of Shaharit and before Arbit, it is also said after the last kadish is recited in both prayers.

The reason for saying it after the last kadish is for the sake of those who may have come late to synagogue and had not heard it said earlier, so that they may answer as well.

The custom of the Oriental Sepharadim is to say it after the last kadish of Arbit and Shaharit every day including Shabbat and Yom Tob. However, the S&P custom is not to say it at the end of Shaharit of Shabbat and Yom Tob.

The S&P custom follows the ruling in Shulhan Arukh[3], which states quite simply that it should not be said. Rabbi Yisrael Kagan writes in Mishna Berura that the reason is because on Shabbat and Yom Tob it is said and repeated many times by the people who go up to the Torah. The likelihood, therefore, is that even those who have come late have heard it and answered at that stage.

The Oriental custom follows the opinion of the ‘Ari’, Rabbi Isaac Luria, who said[4] that it is proper to recite it after the last kadish regardless.

[3] Orah Hayim, 133.

[4] Sha’ar haKavanot, 70b – Special meditations are outlined for the Barekhu after the last kadish.

 Parasha Perspectives

VIII  Pinchas 

 74       Pinchas’s reward: God’s covenant of peace;

Zimri (Shimonite) and Cozbi (Midianite) named and shamed (25:10-15)

75       God commands war with the Midianites because of what has happened (25:16-18).  And after the plague (26:1)

76a     Moshe and Elazar commanded to take (2nd) census (men: 20 up) of People on plains of Moav (26:1-11)

Reuven         43730 (26:5-11)         [down 6.0% on last census]

76b     Shimon         22200 (26:12-14)       [down 62.6%]

76c     Gad             40500 (26:15-18)       [down 11.3%]

76d     Yehuda         76500 (26:19-22)       [up 2.5%]

76e     Yisakhar       64300 (26:23-25)       [up 18.2%]

76f      Zevulun        60500 (26:26-27)       [up 5.4%]

76g     Menashe       52700 (26:28-34)       [up 63.7%]

76h     Ephraim        32500 (26:35-37)       [down 19.8%]

76i      Binyamin      45600 (26:38-41)       [up 28.8%]

76j      Dan             64400 (26:42-43)       [up 2.7%]

76k     Asher           53400 (26:44-47)       [up 28.7%]

76l      Naftali           45400 (26:48-51)       [down 15.0%].

Sum total:     601730   (26:51)        [down 0.3%]

77a     Division of the Land based on census  (26:52-56)

77b     Census (males one month up) of the Levi’im:

23000 (26:57-65)  [up 4.5%]

77c     Daughters of Zelafchad―Machla, Noa, Hogla,

Milca and Tirza―claim their inheritance  (27:1-5)

78       God asserts their right and elaborates on laws of land inheritance  (27:6-11)

79a     Moshe is shown the Land he will never enter (27:12-14)

79b     Yehoshua is appointed as the leader to succeed Moshe  (27:15-23)

80       Tamid, regular daily offerings in the Mishkan:

morning and evening  (28:1-8)

81       Additional Shabbat offerings  (28:9-10)

82a     Additional Rosh Chodesh offerings  (28:11-15)

82b     Pesach and its additional offerings  (28:16-25)

82c     Yom HaBikurim (Shavuot) and its additional offerings  (28:26-31)

83a     Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah) and its additional offerings  (29:1-6)

83b     Asor lChodesh haShevii (Yom Kippur) and its additional offerings  (29:7-11)

83c     Chag (Sukkot) and its additional offerings for the 1st day  (29:12-16)

83d     2nd day Sukkot additional offerings  (29:17-19)

83e     3rd day Sukkot additional offerings  (29:20-22)

83f      4th day Sukkot additional offerings  (29:23-25)

83g     5th day Sukkot additional offerings  (29:26-28)

83h     6th day Sukkot additional offerings  (29:29-31)

83i      7th day Sukkot additional offerings  (29:32-34)

83j      8th day Atzeret (Shemini Atzeret) additional offerings (29:35-30:1)