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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Parashat Pinchas: Among Illusions

“Little feet, little feet are playing 
 Hopscotch among the landmines."

A great deal of life is inevitable. We grow up. We age. There is illness. There is death. Like a pothole on a narrow road, one can slow the car or push the gas, but the pit is unavoidable.

Yet how often do we yearn to skip the bumps and leap the holes, to play ‘hopscotch among the landmines’? How often do we hold onto the hope that the unexpected—the miraculous—shall somehow conquer the inevitable?

Towards the end of this week’s portion, two seemingly unrelated passages are placed side-by-side. The first passage contains the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. As their father died without male heirs, these daughters ask that his portion of the Land of Israel be given to them instead. To the daughters’ satisfaction, the request is granted by God. (Numbers 27:1-12)

In the passage that follows, we find God informing Moses of his eventual death. “Ascend the mountain of Avarim, and behold the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. And after you have seen it, you too shall be gathered among your people. Because you disobeyed my words in the wilderness of Tzin…” (Numbers 27:12-14)

Rashi suggests that the relationship between the two sections can be found in Moses’ reaction to God’s verdict concerning the daughters of Zelophehad. Seeing how they were permitted to inherit the land, Moses began to wonder: ‘Perhaps I too will be permitted to enter the land and inherit it.’ Though repeatedly barred from entrance, Moses clung to the hope that the Almighty might do the unexpected and lift the ban. Thus God comes and pricks the illusion: ‘Moses, you may look, you may even dream, but you shall not pass’

There is something to be said that the Five Books of Moses do not end here, with Moses climbing Mt. Avarim and passing from the world. There remains much for Moses to do…A new leader to appoint, battles to fight, an entire book’s worth of laws to teach and instructions to give… It’s as if God hands Moses his return ticket, and Moses just adds to his itinerary.

The message imparted by Moses’ behavior is simple. What time we have is short. It’s easy to squander it among illusions—playing hopscotch among the landmines—waiting for what cannot be. But there is so much else to do before the foot takes its last step. Better to ask, like Moses: 'What else can I fit on my itinerary?'

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