Parshah Summary – P’shat (literal level)
The parshah opens with Hashem seeming to reward Aaron’s grandson, Pinhas, for a murderous act of zealotry. In the midst of a plague caused by an idolatrous orgy between the Israelite men and Midianite women, a prince from the tribe of Shimon named Zimri, along with his partner, a Midianite princess named Cozbi, is killed by Pinhas at the end of the last parshah. Ironically, Pinhas’ reward is that he receives God’s Brit Shalom – “Covenant of Peace.”
In preparation for war with the Midianites, a census is then taken of men eligible for battle between the ages of twenty and sixty, numbering 601,730. Moses is then instructed on how the Land is to be divided by lottery among the tribes and families of Israel. The five daughters of Tzelafhad come forward and petition Moses that they be granted the portion of land belonging to their father, who died without sons; Hashem accepts their claim and incorporates it into the Torah’s laws of inheritance.
Next, Moses is told to ascend a hill and view the Land, after which he will die, a consequence of striking the rock to draw forth water. Moses then empowers Joshua to succeed him by placing his hands upon him, which is the origin of s’miha, the ordination of rabbis and other Jewish spiritual leaders today. The parshah then concludes with a detailed list of the daily offerings, along with the additional (Musaf) offerings brought on Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh (first of the month), and the festivals of Pesakh, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.
Torah of Awakening
פִּֽינְחָ֨ס בֶּן־אֶלְעָזָ֜ר בֶּן־אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֗ן הֵשִׁ֤יב אֶת־חֲמָתִי֙ מֵעַ֣ל בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּקַנְא֥וֹ אֶת־קִנְאָתִ֖י בְּתוֹכָ֑ם וְלֹא־כִלִּ֥יתִי אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בְּקִנְאָתִֽי׃
לָכֵ֖ן אֱמֹ֑ר הִנְנִ֨י נֹתֵ֥ן ל֛וֹ אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י שָׁלֽוֹם׃
“Pinhas, son of El’azar, son of Aharon the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Children of Israel by avenging My vengeance among them, so that I did not destroy the Children of Israel in My vengeance. Therefore, say: ‘Behold – I grant him My Covenant of Peace.’”
- Bamidbar (Numbers) 25:11,12; Parshat Pinhas
Menahem Mendel, the infamous and much hated rabbi of Kotsk, once returned to the little town in which he was born. There he visited the teacher who had taught him his aleph-bet when he was a child, but he did not go to see the teacher with whom he learned when he was older. During his visit, he happened to run into the other teacher, who asked why he hadn’t visited and if he had any cause to be ashamed of him.
Mendel replied, “You taught me things that can be refuted, for according to one interpretation they can mean this, and according to another they can mean that. But my first teacher taught me simple things that cannot be refuted, and they have remained with me as such. That is why I owe him special reverence.”
פִּֽינְחָ֨ס... הֵשִׁ֤יב אֶת־חֲמָתִי֙ מֵעַ֣ל בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּקַנְא֥וֹ אֶת־קִנְאָתִ֖י – “Pinhas… has turned back My wrath from the Children of Israel by avenging My vengeance…”
This sounds like the vengeful, jealous God that everyone loves to hate. And yet, in a sense, there is a truth here. From a certain point of view, God is a vengeful, jealous God. Not literally, of course, but this is scripture. It is pointing to something spiritual in the language of the time it was written. What is it pointing to?
There is a basis, or a foundation for everything we are experiencing right now. Whether we are talking about things that appear to be “outside” of us, like the sensory world – what we see, what we hear – or things that appear to be “inside” ourselves – such as feelings or thoughts – everything is perceived only because of this miracle called consciousness. And in the field of our experience, everything we perceive is, in fact, literally made out of consciousness. So the image of that thing I see “over there” is nothing but consciousness. And, in fact, the sense of “me” that sees the thing over there, this body/mind that I call “me,” is also something that I perceive, so it too is also just a form of consciousness. The thing I see, and the “me” that sees, are both forms of the one consciousness that I am.
And yet, most people have no sense of this at all. Instead, there is only the sense of me “over here” in this body, and that thing “over there” that “I” see. Why? Because we are constantly framing our experience with language that reinforces the belief that things are objective and separate. The language we use refers to “me” and “that thing over there,” and so our thinking, which is largely made out of language, is deeply conditioned with this assumption of separateness, even though our experience right now tells us otherwise.
But to really see what our experience is telling us, we have to pierce a hole through the lie that is created with our language. And to do that takes a special effort, because language lie is two-ply. Just like good toilet paper. If you have only one-ply toilet paper, that doesn’t work very well. Good toilet paper has at least two layers!
It is the same with our minds – there are two layers. The first layer is simply the fact that our minds are constantly moving. Bla bla bla bla. It’s like a song that you get stuck in your head. Once that song is stuck, it just repeats over and over, because it has created a groove in your nervous system. That’s why music is “groovy.” Dance music is always talking about “getting into the groove” and “making you move” because it’s playing on this tendency of the mind to get into grooves of thought patterns within which your mind moves. That’s the first layer you have to get through – the movement in the groove of constant thinking.
The other ply is the content of the groove – the nature of how language conditions our experience. Right now, these words are creating the impression that “I” am talking about “language” – there’s the sense that “I” and the topic of “language” are two separate things. This doesn’t get questioned unless we deliberately decide to question it. But when we do decide to question this basic assumption, we can notice that these words right now, as well as the “you” that is reading them, as well as everything else in your experience right now, are all living within and are forms of consciousness. And as soon as we point this out, there can be a subtle but profound shift – a shift into knowing that there is only one thing going on…
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יי אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ יי אֶחָד– Hear Israel: Existence Itself is our God – Existence is One!
יי אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ Existence Itself is our God… All Existence, all Being, is not separate from Eloheinu – our own inner Divinity, meaning consciousness. And how do we know this? Because we are the שְׁמַע Sh’ma – we are the listening, the perceiving, and nothing we perceive is separate from that.
יי אֶחָד – Existence is One! Isn’t it funny that we tend to look for God, thinking we know the world but we have to find God, when in Reality, God is the only thing we really know? Meaning, we know that there is Existence. And we know that the “knowing” and “Existence” are not separate; that’s the Oneness of God. So if you choose to think in this very different, very counter-intuitive and yet very obvious kind of way, you can pierce through that ply of separateness almost instantly. Because even though it’s counterintuitive, it’s also really obvious. It’s really obvious that there is only one Reality and this is it. How many Realities could there possibly be? Only one, because Reality just means whatever is. And it’s also totally obvious that you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything to find Reality, because there is only ever one place to find it, and that’s always right now in your present moment experience.
This is the Path of י Yud, of Trust and Simplicity – the recognition of the simple truth of What Is, right now, appearing within awareness. But to recognize this, we first must move ourselves out of the movement of the mind, we must become present. This means, moving our attention away from its involvement with thought, and into sensory awareness – into “that which cannot be refuted,” as the story says. In this way, the mind effortlessly becomes quiet, and we can pierce through the first ply – the layer of the constantly moving mind.
וַתֵּֽעָצַר֙ הַמַּגֵּפָ֔ה מֵעַ֖ל בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל – Then the plague against the Children of Israel was checked… Once we’ve moved through the two layers (and maybe we just have), Reality can be our friend, and the “plague” can be lifted. What is the plague? It is the emotional pain that arises from the belief that you are separate. And that’s why God can be thought of as “jealous” or “vengeful” – if we are not seeing the underlying Being of everything, always focused on the conditional world, then we are literally in exile from ourselves; we become identified with a tiny piece of who we really are, without even realizing what we are doing. This is why God gives Pinhas the covenant of shalom – of peace and wholeness– for killing זִמְרִי Zimri and זְבִּי Kozbi.
Because, who is זִמְרִי Zimri? It is like the word זֶמֶר zemer – “song.” So זִמְרִי Zimri can mean “my song” – meaning, the constant movement of the mind; the song that my thoughts are always singing. And who is כָּזְבִּי Kozbi? It is like the word, כָּזָב kazav – “lie,” or “falsehood.” So כָּזְבִּי Kozbi can mean “my lie.” And when Zimri and Kozbi unite, that’s the two ply barrier of both constant thinking and the lie of separateness that Pinhas is able to pierce through.
What who is פִּֽינְחָס Pinhas? Pinhas is פ Pey נחס Nekhs. Pey פ means “mouth,” and Nekhs נחס is bad, or unsuccessful. So Pinhas means “bad mouth” – he knows the bad side of language – how it tends to veil the Truth, through the movement of thought and the assumptions of thought. When he pierces through these two layers, he receives the בְּרִיתִי שָׁלֽוֹם Brit Shalom, reminding us that whoever wants real peace and wholeness, must also pierce through these two layers of the mind. How do we do it? Come to the fullness of this moment with simplicity – this is the Path of י Yud…
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