Pinchas presents us with a variety of challenges. Why is Pinchas rewarded for his act of zealous defence of God as Balak concludes? Do ends justify means? We have the move by a group of forceful women who force a change in the way property is handed down (the Daughters of Zelophehad in chapter 27). There is the simple but profound ceremony of the appointment of Joshua as the sucessor to Moses. (27:15-23) There is another census and more ritual laws. But I wanted to focus on another issue of spiritual import that also is part of the reading cycle.
This Shabbat is the eighth Yahrtzeit for my mom. Now eight may not be a “major” number, but for some reason, this year the anniversary is hitting me in a different way. My dad died suddenly over 20 years ago. My mom lingered with dementia. My dad lived in Baltimore. My mom lived near us. Two different deaths, two different set of cirumstances, two different times in life. What does this have to do with our portion? It has to do with the Haftorah portion that is read on this Shabbat. From I Kings, it is the story of the Prophet Elijah, who runs afoul of Jezebel and Ahab and flees to the WIlderness (as all great Biblical heros seem to do). Elijah and God enter in to a dialogue on the purpose of Elijah’s life. Elijah seeks God or perhaps an answer to what his life means in the midst of crises and transition. He is instructed to stand in a cleft in a rock in mountain and there Elijah witnesses winds and earthquakes and fire. In the end, after the fire, there was only a kol dimmema dakah…a still , murmering/small voice.
This famous passage has been the subject of numerous comentaries and sermons. For us, as we get older, I think it speaks to the voices of our own life experiences. It is the voice of our parents that, though dead, still speak to us in that kol dimmema dakah. Often people spend hundreds of dollars trying to erase those voices, but, they remain with us. Are these the voices of conscience? Are these the voices of our past experiences reminding us where we went wrong or where we did right? I do believe that those voices are always there and, as we get older, we hear those voices with greater frequency. Also, we come to appreciate those voices. And, for some, we speak back to those voices and, perhaps, seek their guidance still.
This Shabbat, a message for all of us may be to honor those voices, to welcome them and celebrate them, for, in thruth, one day our voice will be joined to theirs. And we hope someone will be listening.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.