Parashat Pinchas • Numbers 25:10−30:1

While much of the Mishnah is a dense discussion of Torah and early Jewish legalism, one tractate stands out for its accessibility. Pirkei Avot, the Wisdom of our Ancestors, provides ethical maxims associated with our early sages. Chapter 5, section 9 of Pirkei Avot is helpful in understanding this week’s parasha: 

“Ten things were created at twilight on the eve of the first Sabbath:
the mouth of the earth (Numbers 16:32);
the mouth of the well (Numbers 21:16);
the mouth of the ass (Numbers 22:28);
the rainbow;
the manna;
Aaron’s staff;
the Shamir, writing;
the inscription on the tablets of the Ten Commandments;
and the tablets themselves.
Some also include the evil spirits, the grave of Moses, the ram of Abraham; and others add the original tongs, for tongs must be made with tongs.

“Our sages seem to reckon that parts of our sacred literature so exceed the plausible course of events – like the hole in the earth responsible for swallowing Korach and his followers – that they must be preconceived by God. Tongs, which could only be rescued from the forge by other tongs, thus become a theological statement “proving” the existence of God. It is curious logic, perhaps, but imagine: if only Korach knew!

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer