Putting Names to the Faces: Pinhas 2017

Pre-Game Chatter: When learning about your family ancestors, what information is most interesting? Are you more intrigued in biographical details, or stories about their character? Are you concerned you might find out that you are too little – or too much – like them?

After the Israelites’ self-inflicted massacre at Baal Peor, our Torah portion reveals the names and some details of the two people who were killed at the conclusion of the plague:

The Pitch: “The name of the Israelite who was killed, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house. The name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi daughter of Zur; he was the tribal head of an ancestral house in Midian.” – Numbers 25:14-15

Swing #1: “At the time the action was taking place (in the previous parasha) we were told only that ‘an Israelite man came and publicly brought a Midianite woman’ (25:6). But now we assimilate the truly relevant information – their pedigree, of all things! Strangely enough, pedigree grabs our attention as the dominant issue throughout the parasha.” – Matis Weinberg, Frameworks: Numbers

Swing #2: “The Hebrew name Cozbi may derive from the Akkadian word kuzabatum, meaning ‘voluptuous’ or ‘well developed.’” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Swing #3: “Kosbi: Connoting ‘deceiver.’” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Late-Inning Questions: Now that we know a bit about Zimri and Cozbi, do we understand more about the depth of the Israelites’ sins in the wilderness? Does knowing possible meanings of their names (“Zimri” comes from the Hebrew word “Zemer”, meaning “song”) add to our appreciation of the story? If so, what do we learn? When we learn negative things about our ancestors, how do we turn our potential embarrassment into a learning experience?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We still have 200 copies of Mahzor Lev Shalem, our new High Holiday prayer book, waiting to be dedicated. Help us to fill our pews with this innovative and illuminating volume, which will add meaning to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for many years to come.

The Big Inning at the End: What a difference one year makes. At last year’s All-Star Game, Cubs started at each infield position for the National League (Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell & Kris Bryant). This year, only one Cub even made the team (Wade Davis) – and he gave up the game-winning home run. Something tells me that 2017 is different …

Shabbat Shalom!