Parashat Pinchas: the Daughters of Zelophehad


There is a maxim I learned at the Leo Baeck college whose truth has sadly been borne out many times in my career as a rabbi  – “where there is a will, there is a “broyges” (a Yiddish word meaning anger/ dispute)

Inheritance can be one of the most fraught areas of family relationships.  Even the best regulated and most even tempered families can discover the pain of frustrated expectation, begin to equate inheritance with love, fall out with each other and end relationships of decades standing once a death has occurred. 

The daughters of Zelophehad were the first people in the biblical narrative to query the inevitability of inheritance, though not the first to be upset about what they did or did not receive. 

These five women feel the injustice of their father’s lack of legacy strongly, they want his name to continue into the future, and it matters to them that the physical legacy he left was to be diverted to people who were not his direct descendants, simply because of gender.  They band together and approach Moses with their case, and Moses is perplexed – what should he do in the face of this determined group of improbable heirs?  As we know, he approached God with his problem and is told that the daughters of Zelophehad speak well, they should indeed inherit their father’s estate, and his name should be allowed to be remembered. 

So they inherit, but soon, as we learn in Deuteronomy and later in the book of Joshua, limits are afterwards put upon the inheritance of daughters, the old need for land to stay within the tribe takes precedence, and the case law established by these five brave women is constrained, though not repealed.

          Inheritance is a strange phenomenon. I think of Abraham, the Ur-ancestor, who tells God that there is no point making a covenant with him because he is childless and his estate will all go to a member of his household, Eliezer of Damascus.  This text made so much more sense to me once I too became a parent – somehow life focuses more when there is a child to pass on to.  And it doesn’t really matter in what area the transmission takes place – tradition, values, wealth, family stories, family name – simply knowing that someone will take it into the next generation makes a difference. 

Yet of course there are many ways of ensuring an inheritance besides that of having a child.  Alexander Pope spoke of his books embodying his legacy. Teachers know that the impact they make on students can reverberate into the next generations, and the Talmud tells us that when a student recalls a teaching in the name of their teacher, it is as if that teacher’s lips move in the grave.  (BT Yevamot 97a)

Anyone who makes a relationship of trust with another knows that the legacy of that relationship will continue until the end of the life of the partner – and maybe even for longer.  What we do, and how we behave with other people, has a lifetime far longer than we expect or think about, the impact of our actions resonates for far longer than we can imagine.

          Inheritance is a strange phenomenon.  It is one of the defining things to give meaning to our lives and at the same time can rupture our connection with the future and the past if not properly organised.  It is something we would do well to consider deeply, to make serious plans about, and to consider the impact and the consequences of what it is we bequeath to the world as a result of our life.

          We are used to the idea of making wills – documents which record what we want to happen to our possessions after our death.  Many of us have made a will and have found that contrary to superstition the making of a will has not somehow brought about our untimely demise. 

But there is more to think about than who gets the jewellery and who gets the house and car. Inheritance is far bigger than possessions – it is, as the daughters of Zelophehad so rightly recognised, what we bequeath about with how we lived our lives and how what we learned or made sense of is transported into the world where we no longer will be. 

There is in Judaism the tradition of making a regular and updated ethical will. The idea is simple yet so important – besides worrying about who gets what of our material possessions, we spend the time thinking about what values we want to transmit, what lessons we have learned that we want our chosen beneficiaries to understand, what was really of importance in our life that we want not to be lost along with the trivia.  It is a valuable exercise, to create an ethical will, in which we put down in black and white what really has mattered to us, be it simple good behaviour or the imperative to tzedakah; be it the need for the discipline of a prayer life, or the permission to doubt God as much as one likes, as long as you still engage in the doubt. 

There is a powerful tradition of writing the personal ethical will as part of the preparation for the High Holy Days – in other words to begin to do so at this time of year, as we take stock of our lived life and try to make judgements about it, and create a framework for the future in order to live a life more in harmony with what is important to us. 

It gives us the space to think about ourselves. Not simply as amassers of material goods, nor as people who just get on with life without much thought for any deeper purpose than to live well enough and be successful and good enough – but as human beings who consider that our lives must have meaning and that that meaning is something to be nourished and cherished and transmitted into the future. 

I heartily recommend that you consider what it is you want your legacy to be. I recommend that you not only make a will, but that you tell your children what that will contains, so that you minimise the broyges after your departure from the scene. 

I also recommend that you consider what you want your spiritual legacy to be – not something unattainable or perfect and not something that you yourself don’t actually manage to do – but that you distil your values, your belief system, your sense of who you are and why you exist, and write on a plain sheet of A4 some of the truths you have learned which have sustained you on your journey through life, and which you would like to project through your nearest and dearest into the future.

What will your legacy be?

Will it be one of infighting for your possessions, of indifference to your existence on this world?

 Of minor irritations or major frustrations? 

Will your legacy be framed in such a way that people will recognise your contribution to the world, or will it simply be a dividing up of the goods?

I have always been so impressed with Zelophehad and with his daughters.  What he owned is irrelevant to me, that his name continued is one of indifference, but the fact that he and his wife bred 5 such superb daughters, who had confidence and tact, who held together to fight for what they felt to be right – that is a legacy to be proud of, an inheritance for which he – and his wife – deserve to be remembered.


Balak of Moab who did not know what he did not know

Israel faces a crisis – and yet does not seem to know it. Balak, King of Moab, is alarmed at the prospect of Israel crossing his land, has seen what they have done to others as they have journeyed towards his land. The Canaanites were entirely destroyed at Hormah (Num 21:3),  then it was the turn of Sichon the King of the Amorites (21;25-26)  who would not let them pass through his land and was defeated and destroyed, and finally Og the King of Bashan (21:35) who also went out to battle against them was utterly ruined. So Balak chose to get some supernatural help, and approached Balaam, a well known prophet the power of whose blessings and curses were legendary.

The sidra focuses entirely on the negotiations between Balaam and Balak, and the consequences of this discussion. What is happening in the Israelite camp is irrelevant – bible is telling us what is happening “offstage” so to speak, a side story that is however hugely important to the Jewish people even today.

Famously, to begin prayer, we take from this sidra the final words of Balaam, which he speaks almost without conscious intent. Balaam is hired to curse the people of Israel, though he knows that he cannot do this, for God has made clear that the Israelites are special and that the normal rules of blessing and cursing them will not apply. At the end of a long process of attempted curses in order to satisfy the wishes of his paymaster Balak, Balaam blurts out the phrase “Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael” – “how good are your tents Jacob, your dwelling places Israel” and this statement is taken by us as a blessing, and used as the phrase with which we begin our services – a tradition that was already established by the time the 9th century Babylonian Rav Amram compiled his first siddur and instructed us “”When entering a synagogue say: ‘Mah tovu ohalecha. . . V’ani, b’rov chas’d’cha; I, through your abundant love, enter your house; I bow down reverently at Your holy temple.”

Our liturgy begins deliberately by turning the curse of an enemy into a blessing for us to express our delight in entering a synagogue, confident that God will accept our prayer. The Talmud understands the tents and dwelling places as being the synagogues and houses of study of the Jewish people (Sanhedrin 105b). The Midrash on the other hand, quoted by Rashi (ad loc) (also Baba Batra 60a), sees the phrase as a paean of praise to modesty and privacy: “When Balaam saw that the tents of the Israelites were set up so that the entrance of one did not face the entrance of another, he praised them with the “Ma Tovu”.

Both traditions are teaching that it is the thoughtful behaviour of the Jews, either their respect for each other’s private space and personal modesty, or else the connection to God through prayer and study, that brings about the change in Balaam’s words, transforming attempted curse to fluent blessing. And that may indeed be a good lesson to draw from the story, but I think it is important to see respect for the other not as an end in itself, but as an important way of being.

To take this further: In this sidra the Israelites had no idea that Balak was so nervous of them. They were not intending to destroy Moab (Deut 2:8-9) who were distant relatives, being descended from Lot the nephew of Abraham. So while Balak was terrified of this horde of people who seemed to be destroying the peoples in their path – and was presumably ignorant of the requests for safe passage that were sent by the Israelites but that were not accepted and instead met with hostility and warriors – the people themselves knew nothing of their effect on the other peoples of the land. They see themselves only as innocents, wishing to travel through, to take nothing but what they would genuinely trade or buy from the inhabitants.

So the ignorance of Balak is matched – even dwarfed – by the ignorance of the Israelites, both of the effect they were having on others, and the reputation they were creating for themselves. Their ignorance extended to the machinations of the Moabite King and the professional prophet he hired, and also to the work that God put in to protect the Israelite people travelling through the desert. In the words of Donald Rumsfeld, they did not know what they did not know.

While Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, was (unfairly) awarded the Plain English Campaign’s trophy for most obfuscating remark in December 2003 for the words: “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know”. (Rumsfeld on February 12, 2002 at a press briefing at the White House on WMD)  The story of Balak is illuminated for me by his words. The Israelites knew the things they knew – though they did not always respond in the way that that knowledge would lead one to expect. They knew that God was looking out for them and providing for them, but they still rebelled; They also knew some things that they did not know – how to get into the land, when that would be, if they would succeed.  But they simply didn’t know how they were being perceived by the peoples whose land they needed to cross to get to Israel, they didn’t know how their reputation grew to be so fearsome that Balak was desperate for extra help, and they didn’t know that God was quietly active in the background in order to protect them.

What God is doing in this narrative remains, to the Israelites, an “unknown unknown”. Rabbi John Rayner would say that God does not intervene in the world, but that God is active in the world –meaning that God’s will is manifested in the actions of people: the choices by Balak and Balaam in this text, as well as the behaviour of the Israelites, being prime examples. Our daily actions, how we conduct ourselves and how that leads other people perceive us matters; indeed it is the one thing that can transform our world, that is able to transform curses to blessings. We cannot know the totality of the effects our choices have, but I would like to think that modern Jews and Israelites are more aware and perceptive than their ancient forbears about the effects on, and the analyses of, the peoples and lands around them of their actions. It cannot be enough to care for the wellbeing only of other Jews. It cannot be enough to spend our time in study and prayer. Such caring, such study must lead to good and ethical action, to being part of the action of God in the world.

The choices we make in our behaviour matters. How other people see us, even if we are currently unaware of them, or do not notice them, or find ways to sideline them – matters. If we see something as self defence but others see it as aggression – it matters. Even if their construction of events is something we would not recognise, their understanding must be understood and taken seriously and addressed. The bible is clear that God does not intervene in history – the story of the talking donkey shows how the bible views such intervention – but it is equally clear that the choices people make, whether they fully understand the situation or are in apparent ignorance of it, have real effects in the world. It is up to us, as it was to Balaam, to make the choices God would wish us to make, or we may find that the situation is taken out of our hands and we will lose the chance to make good choices and bring the will of God into our world. How then will curses be turned into blessings?

previously published on

The world is a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is not to be afraid




I have just returned from a solidarity visit with a local Islamic boys’ boarding school set in a peaceful, leafy and suburban area, which had suffered a hate crime. Last week someone had entered the school grounds late in the night, and had set a fire by the classroom block. It was only the good fortune that a boy was up and revising for examinations in the area,  that the fire service were alerted quickly as was the dormitory wing of the school where most of the pupils were sleeping. It could have been a much more horrible fire had it not been caught early.

Along with the local Vicar and a member of the Borough Council I visited the school in order to be with them, to show them that they are not alone and that the local community is supportive and warm. We wanted to be there in order to demonstrate that the perpetrators of this hostile act were not representative of the local community, that the world in which they were living was horrified by what had happened, and that they had many friends who would stand with them.

The Councillor, the Vicar and I joined the boys and teachers in the school hall. Each of us spoke and then the floor was opened for questions. One boy stood and asked how we would bring racial harmony into the world. From the panel we spoke of building bridges, of creating relationships between people as individuals and between peoples with different identities. Joint football matches between the youth of Church, Synagogue and School were suggested. Again and again we talked of finding ways of meeting the other with open hearts and minds, so that we would recognise how like us they are, we would divest ourselves of some of our prejudice and fear.

We talked of the bridge building we could actually engage in together in small and possible ways. We talked of choosing to leave the safety of our known community and risk meeting people who didn’t think like we are used to people thinking. We talked of the fear of others and their fear of us. Heartbreaking stories were shared of racist comments by passersby of the sports field, and at the local supermarket when doing the weekly shop.  In an apparently unfriendly world, it is easier and better to stay with the friendly and known.

I told them the story of my teacher, Rabbi Hugo Gryn who, late in life, visiting the place of his birth and looking back on his youth in Berehovo, before the holocaust demolished his world and most of his family, wrote “On my visit [to Berehovo] I could not help but think that although Jews there were involved in the community over such a long time and although… they really had full legal equality – Jews owned land and worked in businesses and professions – the fact is that while the Jews and non-Jews depended on each other for many of the essentials in life, and we lived in the same society, we were not really part of the same community. There was hardly any visiting, sharing or gossiping. I realise now that of Berehovo’s three big and beautiful churches, I had never been inside any of them, and the chances are that none of the Christians ever set foot in any of our synagogues….” (from “Chasing Shadows” by Hugo Gryn p257).  For Hugo, the building of bridges between communities became his life’s work, and this was drummed into all of his students as a vital part of rabbinic work.

As we talked, I began to hear the in my head the words of Hasidic teacher Rebbe Nachman “Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od, veha’ikar lo lefached klal – All the world is a narrow bridge, and the important thing is not to be afraid”.

For years when I thought of this bridge as an image, it was as if our whole world, our whole life, is like a narrow unstable bridge swinging over a yawning chasm. That our life is lived on a tightrope, and we walk upon it through the years and are never entirely sure or secure, we are just trusting that the bridge will ultimately take us to where we should be going, as long as we are brave enough to continue.

But today the image that came to mind was quite different. The bridge of Rebbe Nachman was not over a void of years or lives, a bridge whose length measures our lives in time – instead it came into focus as the bridge we make between people and between peoples each time we meet, one that we have to make and remake in every generation, at each encounter with the other. It requires trust for us to reach out our feet and step towards each other, for we are never certain where such a fragile path might take us and whether we may fall at the first obstacle we encounter, or the second, or the third. Will the other want to reach out to us? Will they be open to our tentative moving towards them? Will they fear us and brush us aside?

As Rebbe Nachman wrote, the important thing is not to be afraid at all – or at least not to let our fear stop us creating and walking along that bridge.



Image from Wikimedia Commons, File:Pedestrian Suspension Bridge near the Inn at Narrow Passage.jpg





  הֵמָּה מֵי מְרִיבָה, אֲשֶׁר-רָבוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-יְהוָה; וַיִּקָּדֵש בָּם

These are the waters of Merivah, where the children of Israel strove against God, and he/it was sanctified in them / he was separated from them. (Num; 20:12–13)

 One of the most confusing passages in Torah happens here in parashat Chukkat – not the mysterious ritual of the red heifer which is the ‘hok’ par excellence of Torah, a law without obvious or rational basis to be done simply out of obedience to God’s laws -but the events at the rock, where instead of ordering the rock to yield its water, Moses struck it twice instead (as he was told and did in the first such narrative in Exodus 17:6).

Here in chapter 20, God had instructed Moses and Aaron to take a rod, assemble the community, and order the rock to give its water. But instead Moses had struck the rock twice, had described the Israelites as rebels, and had done the whole thing himself, without including Aaron.  Tradition tells us that Moses’ many failings are demonstrated here. Anger, Impatience, Self-centeredness, Lack of faith in God, … and that this is the reason that God tells both Moses and Aaron that they will not enter the promised land, because Moses had lost control, had not trusted in God, and Aaron had not stopped him. God said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” Those are the Waters of Merivah, the Israelites quarrelled with God—“

But I wonder. That verse seems to be pointing at something a little different.

  הֵמָּה מֵי מְרִיבָה, אֲשֶׁר-רָבוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-יְהוָה; וַיִּקָּדֵש בָּם

and then we have this strange phrase “va’y’kadesh bam” translated usually as some variation of “through which God affirmed sanctity.”

It is this notion of the sanctification of God in this passage that I find deeply troubling. From the moment when God blessed and va’y’kadesh the Shabbat day (Genesis 2:3), the verb va’y’kadesh has an infrequent but powerful presence in bible.

            It is used at the foot of Mt Sinai when Moses tells the people to prepare for the giving of the commandments in three days’ time, telling them to wash themselves, to stay away from women.          It is used when Aaron and his sons are taken through the rituals of becoming priests and particularly high priest. It is used again at the ritual opening of the Tabernacle readying it for sacrifices.   All of these uses are not so much about making something holy, but about separation and dividing, making something ready for particular usage. The only time we hear about the sanctification of God is in the verse before ours:

יב  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן, יַעַן לֹא-הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי, לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–לָכֵן, לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת-הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתִּי לָהֶם.   12 And God said to Moses and Aaron: ‘Because you believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.’

Then follows the verse we know, but it doesn’t seem to be the continuing words of God, it is not spoken in the first person, and it seems to be an interpolation in the speech:

  הֵמָּה מֵי מְרִיבָה, אֲשֶׁר-רָבוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-יְהוָה; וַיִּקָּדֵשׁ בָּם

These are the waters of Merivah, where the children of Israel quarrelled with God, va’y’kadesh bam .

I would like to suggest that we are no longer talking about punishment of Moses or even of the people with this verse, and we are also not in the realm of the sanctification (or not) of God. Instead, we should look at this verb va’y’kadesh and recognise that it is reflecting the geography of the surroundings of the people of Israel, they are in the wilderness of Zin, in the area of Kadesh. In other words they are in an isolated and separated place, not yet part of a community, not connected to anywhere else.

The root comes to mean ‘holy’ by virtue of its more fundamental meaning – that of being separate, distinct and different. It makes sense in all the other usages of this word as a verb va’y’kadesh, as God separates the Sabbath day and makes it distinct, Moses separates out the people and warns them to be different from usual, the High Priest (and the priesthood generally) are separated from the rest of the populace. The tabernacle is also made a distinct and special place when it is given the status of kedusha by Moses once it is completely built. So why would we not translate our verse as “These are the waters of Merivah, where the children of Israel strove against God, and were separated/ isolated/ made different because of it.”

            This is the generation that didn’t have to leave Egypt. This is not the generation who were at Sinai. This is the generation who were born into the wilderness, born after the spies had led the people into a spiral of anxiety and depression by reporting that the Promised Land, while wonderful and fertile, was filled with giants who made themselves look pathetic in their own eyes. This is the generation who as yet know neither themselves nor God.

So maybe what is happening is that after punishing Moses and Aaron for their not teaching about belief and faith to the children of Israel and so being told that they will not be the ones who lead them into the promised land, the attention turns to the relationship between God and the children of Israel – this generation who were not yet taught to sanctify God and to have faith – and because of the striving against God, then something different has happened to them.

            There are times when we look for purpose in our lives and times when we simply jog along with them. Times when we need to believe and times when it doesn’t seem so important. Times when we can believe and times when it seems impossible

This is the very first time the new generation, the ones for whom miracles were the everyday occurrences of manna and water, of needs being met without much effort and battles being won without much loss, had to face something different. Miriam has already died, there is a shortage of water, Aaron and Moses were both getting older and there must have been a general understanding of the mortality of the leadership who had been there from the beginning, who spoke to God, who knew (or appeared to know) the purpose of the wandering.

This generation had to see something special; they had to see words bring about change. It was time for them to take on some of the obligation to God that up till now had been taken on for them. Moses and Aaron may or may not have failed in the way the carried out God’s instructions, in many ways it doesn’t matter, what matters is that an awareness was brought about that this new generation were not yet ready  to take on the task of their elders. It was time for something to hasten their readiness. And so I read these verses not as sanctifying God so much as preparing and altering the people in readiness to take over the work. That by their striving against God they were creating a relationship which would change them. “Va’y’kadesh bam” is not God being sanctified by the waters of Merivah, a concept which eludes me to be honest, but the people being made ready to be holy by their actions at that time.

All of us need to grow and to alter, to take on the burden of the work that others have done before us, be it for the community or within the family; promotion at work or a change of career – we grow up and we grow. It is not something we have a choice about, and that too is made clear in this sidra. But what is also made clear is that however much we don’t want to take on the work, however much we strive against it, we cannot escape it – the very act of striving against it changes us…. So we might as well take it on with good grace.

Korach: Collective Responsibility

כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה

“And they [Moses and Aaron] fell on their faces and said, “God, Master of the Spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin and you cast your wrath upon the entire congregation?”   (Numbers 16:21)

The issue of Collective Punishment remains with us as a modern problem and it is no surprise that rabbinic tradition builds arguments to try to dissect and clarify the issues. Call up the question on a search engine and the chances are you will find emotive responses citing the biblical verses of the children paying for the sins of the father – for example Deut. 5:9 “You shall not bow down to nor worship other gods; for I, the Eternal your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me..”. or maybe citing the fate of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah – though of course a closer look at such texts shows that they do not in fact suggest collective punishment, and one can equally find biblical texts such as Deuteronomy 24:16: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.” Or Jeremiah 31:29-31 “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes–his own teeth will be set on edge” or Ezekiel 18:20: “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous person will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them. 

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is in fact a story AGAINST collective punishment – indeed Moses bargains God down from destroying them and destroying the righteous with the wicked, and only when it becomes clear that there are no righteous people at all, beyond Lot and his family (who are warned to leave before the destruction) is the fate of these cities sealed.

 There is no driver towards collective punishment in Judaism – rather the reverse is true in our texts as God is challenged on a number of occasions when it looks like divine punishment will include the innocent alongside the perpetrators – including the verse in our portion. There is no impetus  towards collective punishment but some rabbis – including Maimonides, make the case for collective responsibility, something that becomes enshrined in Jewish Law in the phrase “Col Yisrael arevim zeh ba’zeh” (B.Talmud Shevuot 39a) – All Jews are accountable each for the other. In other words, we have a responsibility to each other, and an obligation to make sure that we all behave properly in the world. If not, then we are guilty of passively colluding with behaviour that is immoral, that we leave unchallenged behaviour we know to be wrong. This is, in many ways, the origin of the periodic “Not in my name” protests to Government – we do not want to be passive, nor to have people believe that we accede to what is done by our elected leaders.

The Code of Hammurabi (c1700 BCE) was the first to bring in to a legal framework the requirement that the punishment should fit the crime, and the bible takes much of that moral world view – including the famous phrase of lex talionis “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” – treated as meaning there should be proportionate punishment rather than a collective retribution. The Talmud puts it rather more fully in tractate Shabbat 54b “Whoever can prevent his household from committing a sin but does not, is responsible [lit seized] for the sins of his household; if he can prevent the people of his city, he is responsible [lit seized] for the sins of his city; if the whole world, he is responsible [lit seized] for the sins of the whole world.”

 The rabbis who taught this are saying that we have a responsibility to each other, and that this responsibility is on a number of levels of propinquity and possibility. Failing to prevent a wrongdoing is not on the same level as actually committing the act oneself. Not stopping someone with whom we have a relationship is not the same as not stopping someone who is unknown to us and at a distance from us. The word “seized” which I have translated as “responsible” does not imply being something to be tried in a court of law, but is more about having a moral relationship to the action, something between ourselves and God rather than between ourselves and humankind.

 We share a Collective Responsibility – among family bonds or amongst the Jewish people, among fellow citizens under shared government, or as human beings who have stewardship of the world.  Jewish teaching is clear that we are not isolated from each other: To use the words of John Donne “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all:….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

 The text of this parashah rings clearly as a bell for us: “And they fell on their faces and said, God, Master of the Spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin and you cast your wrath upon the entire congregation?” 16:21. Collective punishment is not acceptable in any circumstance, but collective responsibility is something for us all to take note of, and to do.