This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash. When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I use the words “some people think” or something similar. (find out why)
Please see the Vayeishev overview for how we use these narratives in our homeschool. I also have copywork sheets to go with the weekly parsha… enjoy! (um, okay, not one for Pinchas yet, but maybe tomorrow)
It’s not easy to get a parsha named after you: even Moshe didn’t get one!
Do you remember what Pinchas did in last week’s parsha?
When Zimri, a shevet leader, was living with Kozbi, a princess from Midyan, he knew this wasn’t allowed, so he rushed in and killed them both! Some people weren’t sure this was right, so Hashem announced that it was – by making Pinchas a kohein. Zimri was a prince, and Kozbi was a princess, but even leaders have to follow Hashem’s rules. True leaders are people who fight for Hashem.
Now, it’s time to count bnei Yisrael… again!
When bnei Yisrael were marrying the women from Moav and Midyan, a deadly plague struck, and many died, so they must be re-counted. Another reason is that we’re getting close to the end of the Torah. After 40 years, almost everybody who left Mitzrayim has died – only Moshe remains, along with Yehoshua and Kalev. So Moshe counts again because everybody will need land in eretz Yisrael.
Once again, one shevet has grown a lot; one has shrunk a lot!
Menashe, the smallest shevet the last time Hashem counted (in parshas Bamidbar), now has many people; Shimon, a medium-sized shevet before, is now the smallest. This is very surprising! Remember, if we’re talking about rabbits, the more you start with, the more rabbits you’ll have in a few years! But bnei Yisrael are NOT like rabbits.
Only Hashem, not nature, decides which shevatim will grow.
Shimon, the smallest shevet, was actually the shevet of Zimri, the bad leader that Pinchas had killed! But Menashe was the shevet of five great people: the daughters of a man named Tzelofchad.
See if you can remember their names: Machla, Chogla, Noa, Milka, Tirtza!
While Moshe was counting the people and learning the rules of who’d get land, only the men were counted – they could share with their wives and daughters. But Tzelofchad died without sons, so his daughters came and told Moshe, “we need land, too.” They must have loved eretz Yisrael so much!
Something strange happened: Moshe wasn’t sure exactly what to do!
He did what we should do when we’re uncertain: asked Hashem. Hashem said bnos Tzelofchad (what were their names again?) were right: they get their father’s land. But Hashem’s answer was unusual: He told Moshe, “YOU should give them.” Hearing this, some people say Moshe became hopeful that Hashem would let him lead the people into eretz Yisrael.
So Hashem tells Moshe sad news: it would soon be time to die, OUTSIDE of Israel.
Hashem told him to take Yehoshua bin (son of) Nun, and place his hands on him to make him the leader in front of Elazar, the kohein gadol, and everybody else. That way, they’d all know that Hashem chose him to be in charge when Moshe was gone. But that would not happen right away!
There was still so much left for Moshe to teach – like about Yom Tov:
Bnei Yisrael needed to learn what korbanos to bring on each Yom Tov and on Shabbos. There were regular korbanos every day, plus special ones on Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Shavuos, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, each day of Sukkos, and on Shmini Atzeres (which we also call Simchas Torah).
Wait a minute – aren’t there some missing???
It’s true – some special days are missing, like Chanukah and Purim, because those stories happened later, after the Torah was already written, and after bnei Yisrael were already living in eretz Yisrael. They are still very important days, but because they’re not in the Torah, we’re allowed to do things that we don’t do on the Torah ones – like drive cars, switch on lights, and listen to music.
Quick! Do you remember how this parsha started?
Maybe you got so busy hearing the story that you forgot – but Hashem never forgets! Bilam, Balak, and the leaders of Midyan tried to harm bnei Yisrael and many died. Of course, if a person apologizes and does teshuvah, we should forgive. But they weren’t sorry, and Hashem’s revenge is coming…