Sefer Breisheet begins with the grandeur of creation, detailing the many new life forms, and with great hope for the human race. This hope was to be short-lived, with story after story of man's pettiness and propensity for evil. By the end of the book, the theme is that of death, and the stage is set for the enslavement of the Jewish people.
Parshat Pinchas presents us with at least three distinct models of leadership.
It is most difficult to solve a problem if the protagonists will not meet with each other and hear each other out. While there is no guarantee that talking will solve an issue, there is a guarantee that silence will perpetuate the problem.
“Do not follow the ways of Egypt, where you once lived” (Vayikra 18:2). The Jewish people's formative years were those we spent in the land of Egypt, something for which we are to be eternally grateful. “Do not despise the Egyptian, since you were an immigrant in his land” (Devarim 23:8).
Amongst the unsung heroes of the Jewish people are Shifra and Puah. Despite the genocidal decrees of the Egyptian regime against Jewish newborns, these two unknown women risked their lives to save the lives of others. This is all the more remarkable according to those commentaries that claim that Shifra and Puah were non-Jews, and thus, the first of the Righteous Gentiles.
The major theme of sefer Vayikra is, arguably, that of tumah and taharah, purity and impurity. When one reads the Torah, one senses what seems almost an obsession with this topic. If one happens to violate the special sanctity of the Temple, or of sacrifices, or even of the camp of Israel, the penalties are severe and harsh.
The first of Nissan and the first of Tishrei mark the beginnings of the Jewish year. The solar aspect of our calendar—representing the fixed laws of nature—begins in Tishrei; whereas the lunar cycle—symbolizing the ups and down of Jewish history—begins on the first of Nissan.
Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe lei'mor is the most commonly occurring verse of the Bible. While it is usually translated as, “G-d spoke to Moshe, saying”, our rabbis saw additional meaning in the word lei'mor. If it only meant “saying”, then it would be superfluous; if the Torah tells us that G-d spoke to Moshe, then surely something was said.
Since the time of Joseph, infighting has been the Achilles heel of the Jewish people, causing untold pain, suffering and national calamity. So much of our collective energies are wasted on disagreements with others; many of them are so trivial when viewed from the perspective of history. The schisms of the 19th century, caused to a large extent by such topics as sermons in the vernacular or the placement of the bimah in a shul, are being felt today in ways that many are not even aware of.
“Therefore, the Jewish people will not eat the gid hanasheh, sciatic nerve, that is on the hip joint, to this day” (Breisheet 32:33). Sefer Breisheet provides much information on how not to act; we read about every kind of social dysfunction—be it drinking, sibling rivalry, jealousy, greed or more violent crimes such as robbery, kidnapping, rape, incest and murder.