Last Sunday was the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day, which according to tradition, commemorates five calamities which befell the Jewish people on this day:
1. Moses broke the two tablets of stone on Mount Sinai;
2. The daily tamid offering ceased to be brought;
3. During the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the city walls were breached (proceeding to the destruction of the Second Temple);
4. Prior to Bar Kokhba’s revolt, Roman military leader Apostomus burned a Torah scroll;
5. An idol was erected in the Temple.
I’m especially intrigued by #3. Our scripture and numerous songs are full of references to the walls of Jerusalem, which we’re used to, but if we think about it, it’s confusing. If it’s the city of peace (shalem, wholeness), Isn’t the goal to have no walls?
Jerusalem’s walls make it a “reshut hayachid”, an individual’s domain, and the image can be extended to our modern days. We often speak of “boundaries”; of one’s inability to create relationship without knowing where one ends and where one begins. Healthy boundaries around our own “reshut hayachid” are needed (including “guards”, if to follow Jerusalem’s imagery), not because we necessarily prepare for war, but because knowing who we are is a better way to be with others.
What is the verse that we read more than any other during our annual Torah reading?? Surprisingly it’s a verse in this week’s reading (numbers 28:3):
ואמרת להם זה האשה אשר תקריבו ליהוה כבשים בני־שנה תמימם שנים ליום עלה תמיד
Say to them: These are the offerings by fire that you are to present to the LORD: As a regular burnt offering every day, two yearling lambs without blemish.
On top of reading it on this Shabbat, we read it during most days of Rosh Hodesh (New Moon). In addition, because of the way Rosh Hodesh reading is divided, it is read twice (once for the Kohen, 1st aliya and again for the Levi, 2nd). This means that the verse is read between 25-35 times a year. The verse speaks of the daily Tamid offering, #2 of the calamities above. Without the Temple, it’s hard for us to grasp the disaster of what we’ve lost. Perhaps because this spoke to something we did daily and can no longer be done, this is the verse we read more than any other.
There are a number of other topics in this portion. On top of a count of the Children of Israel and the description of the holidays, the Torah portion opens with Pinchas, Aaron’s grandson, who, surprisingly, receives the “covenant of peace” for his act of zealousness, and later shares the famous story of the Daughters of Tzlofchad who come before Moses to give them an inheritance in the Land of Israel, for their “father died in the desert… and had no sons” (Numbers 27:3).
I’d like to look, not at issues of the “feminism” of those 5 daughters (for in spite of our modern eye on the text as such, I am not sure we’re talking in these terms here), but rather at Moses’ leadership in this section. Rabbi Sherki points out the times that Moses “doesn’t know the answer” (two of these incidences are here – Pinchas who takes over when Moses s stunned, and the Daughters of Tz) have a commonality: They are situations when Moses had to deal with an offspring of Joseph. Moses offers a leadership that is attached to G-d and concerned with the people’s spirituality. Joseph offers a national model that cares more about Peoplehood. It’s no wonder that on the verge of entering the Land, we get a new leader for the future challenge: Joshua Bin-Nun of the tribe of Ephrayim, Joseph’s son. The Daughters are also heirs to Joseph – his other son, Menashe, and according to the midrash, Pinchas always has part of his lineage rooted in Joseph.
Entering the Land necessitates a leader that cares about nationality. It also tells us that the halacha we received might be some amendments and innovations, where women will take a major role. What, how, and how much remains to be seen.