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This land is mine

Jewish genealogy has become something of an art. There are many internet sites that can help you chart your family history and discover long-lost relatives you never knew about. Perhaps this penchant for family history begins with the list of Jewish family names that appears in Parashat Pinchas.

After a fatal epidemic struck the people in retribution for their iniquities, diagnosis God commanded Moses to take a census of each tribe, enumerating them by families.

The three divisions defining Jewish pedigree are the three Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the twelve tribes (Jacob’s sons), and families, named after Jacob’s grandsons and great-grandsons.

Although it might seem that Jewish pedigree depends solely on a male-paternal association, a little contemplation proves that the women play a very significant role as well, starting with the fact that being Jewish depends entirely on having a Jewish mother.

At the level of the Patriarchs, the Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, are mentioned in the Torah together with their husbands, and each took an active role in the birth of the Jewish people. Indeed, one synonym for a “people” (??????) is conjugate to “mother” (?????).

At the level of the twelve Tribes, the men come more obviously to the fore, and we indeed know very little about their wives.

At the level of families, although each family name is derived from one of Jacob’s grandsons or great-grandsons names, each name receives a prefix and a suffix, which as we shall see, show that it is the feminine touch in the home that sets the spirit.

God’s Name

There is a well-known Torah teaching that, “When a man and a woman so merit, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) dwells between them, but if they do not, fire consumes them.” This idea is illustrated by the fact that “man” (?????) and “woman” (???????) both contain the letters of “fire” (????), however “man” contains an additional letter yud (?) and “woman” contains an additional letter hei (?). Together, these two letters form God’s Name pronounced “Kah” (??-?).

These same two letters are the letters that appear as the prefix and suffix to the family names mentioned in Parashat Pinchas. For example, Chanoch’s (???????) family is called “Hachanochi” (?????????). Here we see that the letter hei (?), the additional letter in “wife” comes first, and the yud (?) from “man” appears as the suffix letter. This indicates that the woman is indeed, the mainstay of the Jewish family.

The spiritual effects of intermarriage

The plague that struck the Jewish people was caused by forbidden relationships that began in the wilderness between Jewish men and non-Jewish women.

Regarding this sin, Maimonides writes:

Although this sin does not incur the death penalty, it should not be taken lightly. In fact, it has a disadvantage that no other illicit relationship carries like it. Because a child from an illicit relationship [with a Jewish woman] is his [the man’s] child under all circumstances and is considered to be Jewish even though the child is a mamzer. But a child from a non-Jewish woman is not considered his child, as the verse states, “[You shall not intermarry with them…] For he will turn away your son from following Me,” this turns him away from following God.”

This is why the advice to someone born of such a relationship is that he/she convert to Judaism, thus redeeming their father’s lost spark.

Pinchas’ zealousness atoned for the Jewish people, ending the plague and revealing the true spark of spirituality in the Jewish family; a Jewish mother, a Jewish father and a Jewish family name.

On the way to the Holy land

Last minute preparations are being made towards the Jewish people’s entry into the Promised Land. The excitement is building up as each tribe is about to be allocated their portion. The central directive that appeared in Parashat Pinchas is repeated in Parashat Masei, health “You shall give the Land as an inheritance to your families by lot; to the large, try you shall give a larger inheritance and to the small you shall give a smaller inheritance; wherever the lot falls shall be his; according to the tribes of your fathers, sickness you shall inherit.”

The above verse presents two different methods of dividing the land: by lottery and by common-sense reasoning, according to the size of each tribe. The sages describe a third, intermediate method, via Divine spirit:

Elazar [the kohen] donned the urim vetumim and Joshua and the entire Jewish people stood before him. A ballot of the tribes and a ballot of the borders stood by him. He [Elazar] would predict the matches through Divine spirit [according to the urim vetumim] and say [for example], “Zevulun will be drawn and the border of Acre will be drawn with him.” He drew a lot from the tribes’ ballot and Zevulun was in hand, he drew a lot from the borders’ ballot and the border of Acre was in hand… and so it was for each and every tribe.

Common-sense, intuition, and faith

Before we see how these methods of dividing the land correspond to our current generation, we will first note their correspondence to three ways of serving God at three different levels of the psyche.

The first way of serving God is through action, by keeping His commandments. Our actions are governed by the intellect (??????), which judges which actions are permitted and which are forbidden according to Torah law. This corresponds to dividing the land relative to the size of the tribe, which is a common-sense concern.

The second way we serve God is by refining our emotions in a way that goes beyond keeping to the letter of the law. This we achieve by cultivating our intuition and by developing a sensitivity that comes from an inner knowledge (??????) of God. This way corresponds to dividing the land according to Divine spirit, through the urim vetumim, which lay upon Elazar’s heart.

The third and highest level of serving God is through faith (????????) and a dedication that is above all reason, so much so that we totally devote our life to Him. This manifests our direct connection to the Almighty and corresponds to dividing the land by a lottery, the results of which rely entirely on His will.

God gave this land to me

Now, there are three reasons why we should hold on to the land and not give even one millimeter of it to others. These three reasons similarly correspond to the three ways the land was divided when the Jewish people first crossed its borders.

The first reason is above all, the holiness of the land that God has given us. This reason corresponds to dividing the land by lottery. The land of Israel is our fortune, an indispensible part of our inherent Jewish faith.

The second reason is a more emotional one, the need to express our gratitude to the Almighty who has given us this land as our heritage; we cannot give away our beloved gift!

The third reason is the one the Lubavitcher Rebbe emphasized in particular: the security factor, which is pure common-sense.

Miraculously, the results of all three methods of dividing the land were absolutely identical, and so, whatever the reason for keeping the land, the results will always be the same: the whole land of Israel for the Jewish people.

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