Calculating the Inheritance

July 4, 2012

8 min read


Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1 )

A young man suddenly became ill and found himself on his death bed. He realized that he hadn't yet prepared a will regarding the division of his estate (see Numbers 27:8). Although he didn't have any children, his wife was pregnant at the time. Uncertain as to the baby's gender, he instructed that if his wife gives birth to a boy, the son should inherit two-thirds of his possessions, with the remaining one-third going to his wife. In the event that she gave birth to a girl, the daughter should inherit one-third of the estate, with the remaining possessions belonging to his widow. After he passed away, to the surprise of all, his wife gave birth to twins - one boy and one girl.

Unsure about how to adapt the deceased's instructions to the strange turn of events, they approached Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik for guidance. He explained to them that the solution is simple. The man made it clear that he wanted any son he may have to receive two times the inheritance of his wife, while he also desired that his widow should inherit double the portion of any daughter she may bear. In light of this understanding, the estate should be divided into seven equal portions, with the son receiving four of them, the wife two, and the daughter one - just as the man himself would have wanted it!

* * *


As the end of Moshe's life began to approach, God commanded him to appoint his disciple Yehoshua to succeed him (Numbers 27:18). Why wasn't Pinchas, the righteous "hero" of the parsha, selected to take over the leadership after Moshe's death? In risking his life for the sake of the nation, didn't he display the extent of his dedication and commitment to them and to his beliefs, valuable traits for a successful leader to possess?

The following story will help us answer these questions. The Talmud (Shabbos 33b) records that because of disparaging comments he had made, the non-Jewish government decreed that Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai should be executed. He fled with his son, Rebbi Elazar, to hide in a cave. For 12 years, God miraculously provided them with food and drink, and they spent the entire day engrossed in the study of Torah.

After 12 years, God sent Elijah the Prophet to announce at the opening of the cave that the person who made the decree had died, and Rebbi Shimon's life was safe. Rebbi Shimon and his son emerged to see the light of day for the first time in more than a decade. While they spent this time climbing to great spiritual heights, the rest of the world continued in its more mundane fashion.

When Rebbi Shimon and Rebbi Elazar saw men "wasting" their time on what they viewed as frivolous non-spiritual pursuits like plowing and planting, the rabbis looked at them with such anger and disdain that the farmers were immediately burned by a mystical fire. A Divine voice called out, "Have you left the cave to destroy My world?" Rebbi Shimon and his son returned to study Torah in the cave for another year.

At the end of the year, they left the cave. The results were similar, but with one crucial difference. When Rebbi Elazar saw people engaging in earthly matters, he again burned them with his wrath. This time, Rebbi Shimon looked at them and healed them, explaining to his son, "It's enough for the world that you and I exist." One Friday afternoon, they saw a man carrying two bundles of sweet-smelling myrtle in honor of Shabbos. Recognizing the devotion of Jews to mitzvot, Rebbi Shimon and Rebbi Elazar were pacified.

This episode is difficult to understand. If the initial 12 years in the cave placed such a divide between Rebbi Shimon and the rest of the world, how did an additional year in the cave solve the problem when it should have only exacerbated it? The commentators explain that the additional year brought Rebbi Shimon to true greatness: the ability to understand and relate to those who aren't on his level and to appreciate them for their good qualities, such as their dedication to honoring Shabbos.

In light of this explanation, we can appreciate the answer given by the Kotzker Rebbe to our original question. The very fervor and passion demonstrated by Pinchas, while appropriate at that time, rendered him ineligible to serve as the national leader. Rashi writes (27:16) that Moshe requested a successor who would be able to understand that every person has his own individual foibles and needs, and who would be able to patiently bear the burden of interacting with each person and his idiosyncrasies. Pinchas' passionate devotion to truth and righteousness served him well, but would have made him an ineffective leader who was unable to understand and interact with each person on his own unique level.

* * *


As the end of Moshe's life began to approach, God commanded him to appoint his disciple Yehoshua to succeed him as the leader of the Jewish nation. Although Yehoshua was a faithful student, Rashi writes that he wasn't on the same level as his teacher (Numbers 27:20). The Talmud (Bava Basra 75a) records that upon recognizing this difference, the elders of the generation remarked, "Woe to us for this humiliation and shame." Why did they feel embarrassed only after noting this distinction, and why specifically did Yehoshua make them feel this way and not the even greater Moshe?

The Chofetz Chaim compares this to a case of a rich businessman who arrived one day in a small rural village, asking if anybody would be interested in becoming his partner in a new project. The businessman offered to put up all of the necessary funds and expertise, but merely desired a hard worker to assist him with managing and running the business.

Most of the residents were content with their simple lifestyles and were skeptical about the man's promises of fame and fortune, so they declined the offer. One simple, illiterate villager decided that he had nothing to lose and agreed to become the man's partner. A few years later, the pair returned to visit the village, arriving in an impressive carriage and dressed in a manner which clearly revealed the success of their venture. At this sight, the villagers were mortified and ran to hide.

They explained that they weren't embarrassed by the wealthy entrepreneur, as they felt that his education and resources gave him advantages that they could only dream of. They were, however, quite shamed at the sight of the success and riches which had met their former neighbor. They remembered all too well that they had been offered the same opportunity, but only he was wise enough to take advantage of it. The recognition of what they had had the ability to become and their failure to actualize their potential generated powerful feelings of humiliation.

Similarly, the Jews in the wilderness never measured themselves against the levels reached by Moshe. They viewed the pious family into which he was born and the elevated soul with which he was blessed as bestowing upon him opportunities for greatness that they could never fathom. Yehoshua, on the other hand, was neither the wisest nor the greatest of the generation. Rashi explains (27:16) that Yehoshua was chosen on the basis of his devoted service to Moshe throughout the 40 years in the desert. Upon recognizing this, the Jews became aware of the levels which could be reached when a person who had been just like them utilized his talents to their fullest. It was this humiliation that the Jews experienced upon the inauguration of Yehoshua as Moshe's successor.

The lesson for us is that because each of us was born into our own unique family and life circumstances, we needn't worry that we will be compared to the levels reached by others, whose lots in life afforded them natural advantages. However, we must look ourselves in the mirror daily and question, "Am I utilizing all of my talents and abilities to become the best me that I am capable of?"

* * *


Although the name Yissachar is spelled with two shin's, the prevalent custom is to pronounce it as if it were written with only one. Why is this?

The Chida explains that Yissachar named one of his sons Yov (Genesis 46:13), which was at that time - unbeknownst to Yissachar - the name of an idol. Upon learning of this, Yov complained to his father, who appeased him by changing his name to Yashuv (see Numbers 26:24). However, in order to add a shin, Yissachar was forced to give up one of his, and even though it is still part of his written name, it is no longer pronounced.

In fact, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch of Ziditchov was accustomed to read the name Yissachar by pronouncing both shin's up until Parshas Pinchas, in accordance with the opinion that his name was changed only at that time.

Next Steps