Pinchas - on violence, on valour, and on victory

What I love about Torah is the sometimes striking juxtaposition between that which we find deplorable and that which we find inspiring. Parshat Pinchas is named for the man who brutally murders an Israelite man and a Midianite woman for engaging in intercourse. The text sees his actions as positive, but if the xenophobia doesn't bother you, the stunningly violent description of how they die should. Given that Moses married Tziporah, also a Midianite, the Torah contains contradictions on the point of intercultural relations. I find the story of Pinchas, and his treatment as a hero, difficult -- and patently contrary to the elements of justice and morality I seek in the text.

And yet in Parshat Pinchas we also have one of my very favourite stories: The Daughters of Zelophehad. Left without a father and without any brothers, they have no legal claim to inheritance. They approach Moses and Eleazer and ask to be granted something so that they may live and so that they need not marry simply to survive. This part of the parshah is about resistance and justice. The women actively challenge male-only inheritance rights, thus inserting questions and provoking thinking about the lack of choices for women in a male-dominated society. The women state their case rationally and respectfully, but also resolutely. They are freedom fighters. The resolution is that they are told that their “plea is just” and they are granted property. What role models for Jewish women who have, in the last few decades, similarly pleaded and reasoned, explained and fought, for equal standing for women in Jewish institutions and structures! In Torah, like in life, we sometimes find horrific events that are hard to make sense of. But we also find stories of resistance that make the world better.