“These are what you shall make for God on your appointed festivals,
aside from your vows and your free-will offerings…” (Numbers 29:39)
There is a story about King Solomon, who tries to confound his wisest minister. The king instructs him to find a ring that can turn a happy person sad, and a sad person happy. When the minister comes to a goldsmith and asks if this is possible, the goldsmith tells him he has come to the right place. The goldsmith inscribes the ring with three Hebrew letters: gimmel, zayin, yud, which stand for the words, “Gam zeh ya’avor:” this too shall pass. The minister returns to King Solomon, and presents him with the ring. Smiling with confidence at the thought of winning the challenge, King Solomon takes one look at the ring and loses his smile. He learns even his wisdom and great wealth are but fleeting things.
Parashat Pinchas closes with a description of the daily and Shabbat sacrifices, followed by the Temple ritual for each of the Jewish holidays (Numbers 28:11-29:39). This creates a dissonance: the Torah speaks of times of joy, yet Parashat Pinchas is usually read during the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, a period of increasing sadness and mourning for the destruction of the Temple.
Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Halberstam (1952-; head of the Sanz Chassidim in Israel) explains the parasha (portion) reminds us not to get too caught up in sadness; the period of mourning will pass and a time for rejoicing will return. As King Solomon learns, life is a mixed bag. Understood properly, then, the holidays mentioned in Parashat Pinchas are “Moadim l’simcha,” festivals for joy (rather than of joy), designed to carry us through both good times and bad.