Parshas Pinchas – What’s in a Name?


BY: Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld

There is an undercover theme in the first half of this week’s פרשה. It is the idea of name. Throughout the first half of the פרשה there are at least a handful of references to names that don’t need to be there. The Torah specifically tells us the name of the two sinners that פנחס killed, even though they were already named in last week’s parsha. This counting is not like the earlier counting in the Torah, the two earlier counting only gives numbers for the amount of people in the tribes, here we also get each of their names. The Torah tells us the names of the 5 daughters of צלפחד, and their complaint is also that their fathers name will be lost from within his family. The laws of inheritance that follow make mention that inheritance follows by name. Why so many references to names?

I think this leads right into Moshe’s request of Hashem to make sure the people have a leader. He calls Hashem a name that is only used one other time in the whole Torah, אלהי הרוחות, the same name that he called Hashem by during the קרח episode. And in both cases Moshe asks that one man be singled out, by קרח he asked that the one man who is sinning be singled out and here he asks that on man be singled out as a leader. But even the leader should lead in the same fashion. Rashi says Moshe was requesting that this leader be able to relate to each of the people on their own level and as individuals, just as Hashem knows the “spirit” of each specific person.

And that is where name comes in. The מהר”ל says that you only need a name when you relate to another person. None of us wake up in the morning and say, “hi self, how did you sleep?” and even when we do talk to ourselves, we never use our name, because a name is an identifier for an outsider to relate to you. Which is what the מדרש and גמרא mean when they say that characters in תנ”ך had more than one name, they were related to differently by different people. And we all have the same thing, our children call us a different name than our friends do, which is different than the name our parents have for us. We are each multi-faceted beings that can be related to from many different angles, and sometimes those angles look extremely different from one another.

This פרשה uses the concept of names to teach us how to deal with mistakes that we make, but not just any mistakes, the mistakes we make when we have been climbing in the right direction for so long. Often we find ourselves coming out of a funk and headed in the right direction and just when thinks start getting comfortable the yetzer hara kicks in and we fall again. That is what happened at the end of last week’s פרשה, the people had faltered with the מתאוננים and one thing after the next was just going wrong. The מרגלים, קרח, מי מריבה, they complain about the מן, about no water, עמלק attacks. And finally, last week they come to Moshe and ask him to daven for them and things start turning around. They defeat סיחון and עוג and are on their way to the Promised Land.

Then the daughters of מואב come, and everything goes downhill again, 24,000 people die in a plague and one of the leaders is even together with one of the enemies. It would be easy to give up hope once again. But I think that is what פרשת פנחס teaches us. We each have a name. A name that we use to relate to Hashem. He knows each of us by name and holds us dear and precious. And even when we sin we don’t lose our name. and that is the name that entitles us to an inheritance in the land of our people and an inheritance with Hashem. No sin can break that name, we will always have that relationship with Hashem.

This helps explain strange מדרש that Rashi quotes. The ספרי is wondering what the connection is between the beginning of the פרשה and the second part of the פרשהwhich talks about all the קרבנות that we bring throughout the year? The מדרש picks up on the word used when Hashem tells us about the קרבנות, the word is צו. This word means to command but it also means to connect in a deep way. A crew or team is called a צות since a truly great crew connect to each other to become one unit. To explain the depth of this word choice the מדרש says that this commandment was in response to an earlier command. Moshe had “commanded” Hashem to appoint a leader for the Jewish people to make sure they are taken care of, and Hashem says, you are commanding Me how to act with my children, let me command my children how to act toward me.

But the מדרש is explaining that the depth of a commandment is really about relating to one another, which is what names are used to for. And the same way that we each have a unique name, we each have a unique way of relating to Hashem that is specific to us and that we share with no one. And therefore, we have so many different types of holidays and each holiday has different types of קרבנות. But there are also קרבנות brought daily, and weekly, and monthly. There are hundreds of avenues by which we can each reach Hashem in our own specific unique way. And it is with this message that the אלהי הרוחות which we call out Father in heaven imparts His message to the world.


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