temple emanu-el
top border
Weekly Torah Commentary
Pinchas (July 30, 2016)
 
Translation:
Numbers 25: 16-18
(16) The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, (17) “Assail the Midianites and defeat them — (18) for they assailed you by the trickery they practiced against you — because of the affair of Peor and because of the affair of their kinswoman Cozbi, daughter of the Midianite chieftain, who was killed at the time of the plague on account of Peor.”

Excerpted from The Torah:
A Modern Commentary,
Revised Edition,

editor W. Gunther Plaut
(NY: URJ Press, 2005).
Used by permission of URJ Press,
www.urjbooksandmusic.com.
Original Text:
Commentary

Giving Humble Thanks: A Lesson in Hakarat Hatov

Prince H. Davis, Administrative Assistant

In Parashat Pinchas, Midian’s leaders devise a treacherous strategy against the Israelites: They send their daughters to entice the Jews to commit harlotry and idol worship. It is noteworthy that God does not instruct Moses to lead the attack on the Moabites, who also are involved in this plot. Unlike with the women of Midian, the Moabites do not beguile the Israelites. Rather, it is the people themselves who take the initiative and partake of the sacrifices to their gods. As the Torah says: “The people partook of them and worshiped that god.”

In addition to their sensual attractiveness, the Moabites and Midianites bring plenty of wine and offer it to their companions to weaken their moral resistance. This triggers a divine retribution that kills 24,000 Jews. The Midianites’ and Moabites’ cruel fraudulence thus is countered with the strict prohibition of ever accepting the conversion of either group.

It is interesting to note that in the war against Midian, Moses doesn’t lead the people into battle, as he has in past wars. Instead, he sends Pinchas. The Ohr HaChaim suggests that Moses is reluctant to lead the war against Midian himself because it was Yitro, the chief of a Midianite clan, who saved Moses and raised him in his household. He even gave Moses his daughter Tziporah as a wife.

Although Moses receives a direct command from God to wage war, how can he participate in the destruction of the very people who in the past showed him such kindness? Even King Saul, when it comes time to fight against the Amalekites, sends a message to the Kenites (the descendants of Yitro) saying, “Come, withdraw at once from among the Amalekites, that I may not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they left Egypt.”

I always think this is a convenient way for Moses to remove his own guilt and regret by sending someone else to do the dirty work. Where’s the gratitude? Then, I remember that it is Aaron, not Moses, who initiates the plague of turning the Nile into blood. Why? It is because the Nile had “saved” Moses from the killing of the firstborn. How could he betray this natural ally of his? After all, the meaning of Moses’ name hints to his salvation by water. (Aaron also initiates the plague of lice when he strikes the ground with his staff. The Midrash says that it is the ground that hides the Egyptian that Moses kills while coming to the defense a fellow Jew.)

We read in I Kings 17:17-24 how the prophet Elijah felt so indebted to a widow that gave him food and shelter that he resurrected her young son. If this was his obligation for receiving bread, then how much so is the obligation for the rest of us to show gratitude when assisted spiritually or physically that saves us from terrible harm and danger?

If we do not honor or recognize our benefactor with gratitude, then we are ungrateful. Let us now ponder for a moment how thankful we must be to God who grants us countless goodness and constantly shows us outstanding kindness. We must do all we can to love and help others, thereby fulfilling His will. This is the true essence of Hakarat Hatov, receiving the good. Shabbat Shalom!


WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Join the conversation and post your thoughts. >>

Click here to view the Torah Commentary Archive. >>

Click here to subscribe to the weekly Torah Commentary. >>

For more on the Reform perspective on this Torah portion,
view the URJ’s “10 Minutes of Torah.” >>



Back to Torah Study
photo of temple
One East 65th St., New York, New York 10065. Phone  212-744-1400
One East 65th Street, New York, NY 10065    (212) 744-1400 horizontal rule Member Log In | Calendar | Site Map | Contact Us | Text Size [+] [-]