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Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

“These are the ones counted by Moses and Elazar the Priest, who counted the
Children of Israel in the plains of Moab, by the Jordan, near Jericho.” (Numbers 26:63)

God commands Moses in Parashat Pinchas to conduct another census of the Israelites (Num. 26:2). This will serve as the basis for the allocation of land in Canaan to the tribes (Num. 26:53). God further instructs Moses, “Ach b’goral, Only by lot shall the land be divided…Al pi hagoral, according to the lot shall one’s inheritance be divided, between the many and the few.” (Num. 26:55-56). This is the second of only two instance the Torah relies upon a lottery (the first is the Yom Kippur ritual of the scapegoat (Lev. 16:8)). Can such an important decision really be left to chance?

Apparently not. Once Canaan is conquered Elazar, the Kohen Gadol, or High Priest, conducts the lottery using the urim and tumim (prophecy devices kept in the ephod, or pouch). He announces which tribe gets which land and then Joshua picks out the lots confirming Elazar’s Divinely-inspired prediction (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 12a). Later commentary translates al pi hagoral to mean by the mouth of the lot and adds another layer of Divine miracle: the lottery shards themselves proclaim the allocation of land (Midrash Tanchuma Pinchas 6).

The S’fat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, 1847-1905; scholar and rebbe of the Ger Chasidim) connects this process to the verse “Your people are all righteous; they will forever inherit the land.” (Is. 60:21) and determines the spiritual development needed for a place in the world to come requires roots in the physical land of Israel. Contrary to most chassidim, his son buys land in Palestine in 1921 and encourages Ger Chasidim to do the same to earn the right to fulfill the prophecy.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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