G-d tells Moshe to inform Pinchas that Pinchas will receive G-d's "covenant of peace" as reward for his bold action - executing Zimri and the Midianite princess Kozbi. G-d commands Moshe to maintain a state of enmity with the Midianites who lured the Jewish People into sin. Moshe and Elazar are told to count the Jewish People. The Torah lists the names of the families in each tribe. The total number of males eligible to serve in the army is 601,730. G-d instructs Moshe how to allot the Land of Israel to Bnei Yisrael. The number of the Levites' families is recorded. Tzlofchad's daughters file a claim with Moshe: In the absence of a brother, they request their late father's portion in the Land. Moshe asks G-d for the ruling, and G-d tells Moshe that their claim is just. The Torah teaches the laws and priorities which determine the order of inheritance. G-d tells Moshe that he will ascend a mountain and view the Land that the Jewish People will soon enter, although Moshe himself will not enter. Moshe asks G-d to designate the subsequent leader, and G-d selects Yehoshua bin Nun. Moshe ordains Yehoshua as his successor in the presence of the entire nation. The Parsha concludes with special teachings of the service in the Beit Hamikdash.
The Last Laugh
“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month shall be a pesach-offering to G-d.” (28:16)
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch was arrested once for organizing a Torah education network in Russia. A KGB officer put a gun to his head and demanded that he name his collaborators.
Laughter would not seem the most appropriate response to one’s imminent departure from this world.
The twenty-one summer days between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av are the saddest days of the year.
During these three weeks, we remember the destruction of our land, of our people and our Holy Temple, our pipeline to spirituality.
We are still living in that world of destruction. Little that we see gives us hope, surrounded as we are from without and within by forces that try unceasingly to uproot and destroy us.
That’s the gloomy picture that we face on a daily basis.
It’s all too easy to become despondent and fall into depression.
Then comes along our parsha, Parshat Pinchas (which usually falls within the three weeks) with its message of hope amongst the ruins.
That hope is expressed by the Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succot, which are all mentioned in the parsha.
All the festivals share a common element – simcha. “And you will have simcha on your holidays.”
Happiness has many expressions, and in Hebrew there is a word for each. Simcha is the happiness that expresses itself in laughter.
What causes this distinctive physical response that can vary anywhere from a subtle widening of the mouth to fully-fledged convulsions?
When we suddenly see through layers of falsehood to self-evident truth, that flash of revelation generates the physical reaction we call laughter.
In the Book of Psalms, King David says, "Light is sown for the righteous, and for the straight of heart, simcha..."
Simcha, laughter, is the product of straightness of heart, of the heart’s connection to true reality.
"G-d's commandments are 'straight,' they bring simcha to the heart..."
G-d's commandments bring simcha because they are 'straight'; they are reality itself.
Why did Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch laugh?
Every believing Jew lives in this world — but not for this world; we live for the World to Come.
However, like most spiritual realities, this awareness floats around the back of our consciousness without taking up too much airtime.
Until something like a loaded gun brings the World-to-Come into crystal clarity.
Then this world and its illusions are instantly reduced to absurdity.
Once, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva were approaching the Temple Mount. They saw a fox coming out of the place where the Holy of Holies had once stood and they began to cry – except for Rabbi Akiva.
They asked him how he could laugh and he asked how they could cry. They replied that the Torah says that, “’Any unauthorized person entering the Holy of Holies shall die.’ And now foxes stroll there. Should we not cry?”
He replied, “It is (also) written, ‘Zion will be plowed over as a field’."
Since the prophecy of the utter destruction of Jerusalem had been fulfilled, Rabbi Akiva had no doubt that prophecy of its ultimate rebuilding would also come true.
And so Rabbi Akiva laughed.
He laughed because his supreme straightness of heart allowed him to penetrate beneath the surface to an intense perception of truth.
“Akiva, you have comforted us,” they said.
And so it is with our holy festivals.
The festivals are also called moadim — which means an appointed time of meeting. At the moadim, we ‘meet’ G-d; and even though that simcha may last for but a few days a year it reminds us that the darker our dark world becomes, so much brighter will be the blinding flash of revelation at our ultimate meeting when the redemption finally arrives.
May it come speedily in our days!
Sources: Based on Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Bnei Yissaschar in Iturei Torah, Rabbi Reuven Subar