Yom Rivii, 28 Tishri 5778
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Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah--Pinchas

Sometimes the Bible’s value in our spiritual education has as much to do with what is not in the text as to what it says (or can say). In Genesis, we read of four different creation stories in the book’s first six chapters. The stories have some basic themes in common, though the order and actualization of creation differ, each from the other. The text does not tell us which really happened or which is the more believable. We know that each story comes from more ancient different mythologies (we have proof). In amalgamating them into one text, we must understand that each story is of ultimately the same significance. Many ancient sages affirm that the Bible tells its reader that it is not history. The sages responsible for creating the canon taught this, as well. The purpose of the Bible is to create meaningful, even holy, conversation. This conversation begins with the part of any story that is not there or not specifically spelled out.Sometimes the Bible’s value in our spiritual education has as much to do with what is not in the text as to what it says (or can say). In Genesis, we read of four different creation stories in the book’s first six chapters. The stories have some basic themes in common, though the order and actualization of creation differ, each from the other. The text does not tell us which really happened or which is the more believable. We know that each story comes from more ancient different mythologies (we have proof). In amalgamating them into one text, we must understand that each story is of ultimately the same significance. Many ancient sages affirm that the Bible tells its reader that it is not history. The sages responsible for creating the canon taught this, as well. The purpose of the Bible is to create meaningful, even holy, conversation. This conversation begins with the part of any story that is not there or not specifically spelled out.

As to creation, sages regularly write of ethical values attached to each of the stories and use the stories as the foundation for teaching in the modern era.  In a commentary on Genesis Chapters one and two, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “Man's sin is in his failure to live what he is.” Being the master of the earth (chapter one), man forgets that he is the servant of God (chapter two). While the text reads as though the acts are unrelated, Heschel, in taking them out of literal context, finds deep spiritual value. We are special, but not so special that we are not accountable.

Similarly, we read this week’s portion. The text presents anecdote after anecdote screaming to be debated and expounded.  Whether it is the zealotry of Pinchas, the condemnation of Moses, the division of the land, or the change in inheritance laws, the portion yields wonderful and challenging conversation.

One of the most often heard criticisms of the Bible is that it is “Patriarchical;” it gives sanction to male dominance. I believe it is exactly the opposite. I think society has always been male dominant, but this book helps to modify this unnatural but ever present reality. In several places throughout the text, little bombs go off that challenge the male-dominant status quo. Whether it is the story of Deborah and Ya-el defeating Sisera, the waters of Sotah in Numbers, or the strength of character displayed by most biblical women, the Biblical authors help to bring a healthier perspective to gender equality than they get credit for.  One such lesson comes from this week’s reading. Zelophechad, from the tribe of Manasseh, died leaving no sons. He did have five daughters, but the inheritance “law” did not allow women to inherit estates. The daughters petitioned Moses, who, in turn, petitioned God. God’s decision was swift. The women should inherit their father’s estate. For all of the times that Israel rebels when they do not like God’s answer, there was no response; the text gives us nothing. One of the great revolutions in “societal norms” happens without argument or incident. Time and time again, we read of the law of primogenitor; the law that states that the firstborn son gets the double share. In just a few verses of scripture, the world of property ownership changed … and no one argued. Women’s rights are not special rights; they are equally God-given inalienable rights.Now, for all the ultra-religious who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, why then are we not paying women equal wages? Of course, other questions over the status of women and, by extension, the status of equality with respect to all humanity flow from this same conversation. Perhaps it is time for America to pick up the Bible and study it … all of it … as it was written and intended to be studied. I think a lot of folks might be surprised to learn what is and is not written there. Shabbat Shalom.