Originally published July 2012

Overview: Three Sections

  1. The Bris Shalom of Pinchas as well as the commandment to attack the Midianites
  2. Starting in chapter 26: Concept of inheritance, including Bnos Tzelofchod
  3. Yom Tov Korbanos

Attack the Midianim

The war on Midian was necessary because the nature of their attack against us could not go unchecked. It was an attack which hit at the core and foundation of what the world is all about, similar to Amalek. It’s not motivated by a need to “save face” against potentially damning claims against the Torah. Jews are not war mongering, imperialist missionaries; we never have been and never will be. So why attack? The word tzror connotes enemies, aggressive attack. Jews attack to conquer the land, to defend themselves, or to establish the Jewish kingdom IN their own land, but not just to punish other nations. This is a one of a kind commandment to attack another nation.

The Censuses

The Netziv famously explains that the whole of Sefer Bamidbar is about the transition from the supernatural mode of hashgachah to the natural mode. The previous census (in parshas Bamidbar) was held by the Mishkan, at the super natural level. This census is done on the rarified core of B’nei Yisrael, as they are about to enter Israel. The previous census was straight up – numbers of yotzei tzava by tribal allegiance and that’s it. This census speaks about the families, not the tribes, alluding to the 70 families (although there are only 65 listed). (Chazal clue us in by pointing out that every single family contains the letters of God’s name attached to their name. For example, the Chanochi family: The non-Jews asked “Why are they arranging yichus by tribes? they think the mitzrim weren’t sholeit on their mothers. If they controlled their bodies, then certainly their women!” Thus the Torah testifies that their lineage was pure by sealing their names with God’s name1)Rashi to 26:5). Why the distinction? Why is the super-natural mode listed according to tribe and the natural mode according to family?

The census is made in order to clarify the lines of inheritance. 26:52 is laws of inheritance, including a lottery to determine which tribes got which land.

An important Rashi in verse 55: The original inheritance was different to the other inheritance laws we find in the Torah, where by the belongings of the deceased are inherited by the descendants. Whereas here, the deceased inherit from the living, and then receive it back from them, albeit in a different distribution pattern. How does that work? Two brothers who left Egypt, who had sons who came to the Land, one one son and one three. First one portion s distributed to the living one son, and three portions to the living three. But then, those portions are transferred to their grandfather’s estates, and redistributed equally to the current generation through the fathers, [so the living one son gets 2 portions and the living three sons get 2 portions or 1.5 each]

So why do it in this unusual way? Every inheritance had to be seen as deriving rightfully from the Yotzei Mitzrayim.

For more info, listen to this week’s audio

References   [ + ]

1. Rashi to 26:5