Pinchas combines a variety of issues in this week’s portion. One of the most interesting aspects of the portion is the case of the Daughters of Zelophehad. Their father died with no sons to leave the estate to and they appealed that they receive the inheritance. This story (Numbers 27:6-11) forms the foundation of the Halachic approach to estate planning. There is the issue of transition from Moses to Joshua (27:15-23) and additional ritual commands (28).
In between all of these texts is a brief series of verses that many commentators have looked at. In 27:12-14, Moses is called by God to ascend heights to view the promised land. But: “When you have seen it, you too shall be gathered to your kin, as your brother Aaron was” (13). Why? The explanation is given in 14 as Moses is told that because he disobeyed God’s command, he will not be allowed to enter Canaan.
Here Moses is given the truth that he will die. There is Midrash on his arguing with God. But the issue that seemed to come to the fore was not how to prepare for one’s eventual death (there is a lot on this issue), but rather, knowing that we will die, how do we choose to live? Indeed, these conversations have begun to gather increased traction around the world. For us, as we begin to come to grips with our own mortality, these verses take on additional meaning.
I think we can look at these verses as another way of reminding us that we need to take this time of our life to look at how we wish to live our life. The reality of own mortality, as Pinchas tells us, can allow us to embrace what gives our life meaning and joy. As much as making plans for the end of life is important, so too is the awareness that life is so precious and fragile that to take it for granted or to put things off into “one day”, may short-circuit our own sense of life’s beauty and potential. Judaism tells us that we need to cherish each day of life. A message of Pinchas is to reinforce this idea of celebrating each day.
Rabbi Richard F Address