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Parasha Pinchas (Phinehas): Leadership, Zeal and the Call of God

Parasha Pinchas (Phinehas)
Numbers 25:10-30:1; Jeremiah 1:1-2:3; Romans 11:2-32

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous [kanah] as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal [kinah] I did not put an end to them.  Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him.'”  (Numbers 25:10-11)


Reading the Torah at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

In last week’s Parasha (Balak), Balaam did not succeed in directly cursing Israel whom God had blessed.

This week’s Parasha picks up where Balaam left off.  The people of Israel brought destruction upon themselves by succumbing to the temptation to sin.

Because the Moabites were unable to curse Israel directly, they instead ensnared the Israelites in sin (Numbers 25:18).

According to rabbinic tradition, Balaam understood that Israel had to be lured to destruction through sexual immorality, since he knew that he could not utter a curse against them.

It seems that the desire for riches won out over his desire to do God’s will, and he hatched a plan for the downfall of Israel.

One sin led to another and the Israelites began worshiping Baal, causing a plague to break out that began destroying the Jewish People.


A Jewish man reads from the Torah scroll

As the Israelites who remained pure wept at the Tent of Meeting, Zimri and Cozbi, an Israelite man and Midianite woman, entered a tent nearby for the purpose of fornication.

Pinchas (Phinehas), grandson of Aaron the Cohen (priest), witnessed their defiant behavior and thrust a spear through them, catching them in the act of fornication.

Because Pinchas was zealous for God’s honor, the plague against the Israelites was stopped, and God rewarded Pinchas with the covenant of an everlasting priesthood.

“He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous [kanah] for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”  (Numbers 25:13)

Parasha Pinchas (Phinehas), therefore, is one of very few Parshiot that are named after a person, perhaps in honor of his courage to take a stand for righteousness.


Prayer at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Rightful and Wrongful Zeal

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD [YHVH] your God, am a jealous [kanah] God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”  (Exodus 20:5)

The word for zeal in Hebrew is kanah.  This word is often translated as jealous in English.  Although the English word zealous can have a positive connotation these days, generally speaking, the word jealous has come to have an entirely negative connotation.

According to Scripture, however, this view is skewed.  Jealousy can be both holy and productive.  This is no more evident than in the Hebrew name of God El-Kanah (God is jealous).

“Do not worship any other god, for the LORD [YHVH], whose name is Jealous [Kanah], is a jealous God [ kanah El].”  (Exodus 34:14)

Pinchas was filled with hatred of evil and indignation against that sin which so grossly profanes God’s holy name.

And although society then and today might consider his action an act of murder, God saw his passion for holiness and credited him with righteousness.

“But Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was checked.  This was credited to him as righteousness for endless generations to come.”  (Psalm 106:30-31)

Likewise, as believers in Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, we should possess the same zeal as Pinchas for righteousness.


Jewish people have been coming to the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem for centuries to pray.  This practice likely began as soon as possible after the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 on Tisha B’Av by the Romans.  The first record of praying at the Wall dates from the fourth century AD.

Zeal can be defined as eagerness, enthusiasm in the pursuit of a cause, intense desire, and passionate commitment.

When Yeshua (Jesus) cleansed the temple of the money changers, His disciples, witnessing His zeal, remembered the words, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up (consumed me).”  (John 2:17, Psalm 69:9, Psalm 119:139).

May we all come to a place of living our life with zeal, as did our Lord and Savior Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus The Messiah).

Still, we need to be careful that our zeal is directed by Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) and not misdirected by our own flesh, which leads us into sin.

Remember, Rabbi Shaul of Tarsus before he was transformed into the Apostle Paul?  Paul’s zeal for God caused him to persecute the first Believers in Yeshua to their deaths, until the Lord miraculously intervened and told him that he was persecuting Yeshua (Acts 22:3-4).


An Orthodox Jewish man reads a holy book (probably the Jewish prayer book) at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

Most Orthodox Jews are extremely zealous for the Lord, but they also need to know Yeshua as the Messiah.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.  For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.”  (Romans 10:2)

You can help reach the Jewish people with knowledge of Yeshua and the Messianic prophecies.


Moses sees the Promised Land from Afar, by James Tissot

Moses Transfers Authority to Joshua

“Moses said to the Lord, ‘May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’”  (Numbers 27:15-17)

In this week’s Torah reading, God delivers what must have been devastating news to Moses.  He tells him that he will be allowed to see the Promised Land from a distance, but will not be allowed to enter.

Imagine Moses’ heartbreak.  He had invested so much in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, leading them through the wilderness and teaching them the ways of God—all in preparation for the prophetic entering into the Promised Land.

Nevertheless, Moses, as the true leader that he was, thinks of his people and asks God to give the Israelites a shepherd-like leader (Numbers 27:15-17).

God tells him to transfer the leadership to Joshua by the laying on of hands.

“Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay [samach] your hand on him.  Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence.  Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him.”  (Numbers 27:18-20)

As one of two scouts who went into Canaan on a fact-finding mission and brought back a good report, Joshua was the perfect candidate for leadership.

He had the courage to take a stand for God, even in the face of national hostility.  Moreover, he was filled with God’s Spirit.


Torah scoll

Moses laying his hand on Joshua was a physical act that symbolized the transference of authority.  It confirmed, established and set apart Joshua as the God-ordained leader of the Israelites.

The word lay in this verse is samach in the Hebrew, which means to lean on, support or rely on.  It’s related to the Hebrew word smichah, referring to rabbinic ordination.  Another related word is the word for authority—samchut.

These words all imply trust.  Indeed, being anointed for leadership is a sacred trust that we may not take lightly.  Leaders must be people that others can rely on for support and godly direction.

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”  (1 Peter 5:2-3)

We all need godly leadership; we were created to be governed—to come under samchut (authority).  Without a shepherd, we are scattered, helpless sheep, exposed to attack on all sides.

Even though God is the ultimate authority, and Yeshua is our Great Shepherd, He also ordains leaders to guide and support us in our walk with God.


A shepherd in traditional garb leads his sheep through the pastures of Israel.

In this Parasha, we see an example of three good leaders: Pinchas, Moses, and Joshua.

Not all leaders, however, are good shepherds.  This was made abundantly clear in recent Parshiot where leaders misled the people; for instance, the 10 spies who brought a bad report, as well as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who rebelled against Moses, were leaders.

We must be careful about whose leadership we place ourselves under.  A foolish or incompetent shepherd might lead us astray into deception or destruction.

“My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray.”  (Jeremiah 50:6)

Many of the people of Israel today and the Jewish people generally, listen to what their shepherds (the Rabbis) tell them.  Sadly, most of them do not yet have the saving knowledge of Yeshua who fulfilled the Messianic Prophecies of the Jewish Scriptures.

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