The children of Israel seem destined to have their ups and downs, even as we approach the last few chapters of B’midbar. The years in the wilderness haven’t yet taught them to walk in God’s ways. After the triumphant and glorious declaration by Balaam of what the Israelites can become in the Promised Land, they find themselves mired in the orgiastic practices of Baal-peor as they succumb to the charms of the Moabite women. It is up to Pinchas to save the day after God’s anger against their mass idolatry results in an epidemic plague and orders from Ha Shem to spear the ringleaders. Pinchas’s heroic and dramatic act of expiation for the Israelites’ latest transgression, sometimes seen as a bit over-zealous, is rewarded: The plagues cease and his right to the priesthood are declared. Once that happens, it is back to administrative business, ensuring this next, more pious generation of conquistadores are accounted for and prepared for military service. The land of Israel is apportioned by lot and size of each tribe; Joshua is named as Moses’ successor and a religious calendar is declared.
The seriousness of vows and the power of keeping one’s word is the central theme of the final two parashot of this upcoming week’s Shabbat as the children of Israel make final preparations for entering the Promised Land. Will they be up to the task? Will they remain steadfast? Will they accept their responsibilities to realise the destiny God has planned for them? Insight into these most dramatic of times for the Israelites can be gained by listening to Liz as she leads this week’s service.