But what of the lesser-known heroes? Have they merely faded into obscurity?
This week’s Torah portion seems to be dedicated to those men and women whom the larger world might never have heard of, but whose deeds shaped our peoples history.
Starting with the Parsha's name, Pinchas. Pinchas (or in its rather turn-of-the-century sounding anglicized form, Phineas) was basically an extra in the Torah's narrative. But he rose to the occasion, as recounted in last week's parsha, by taking matters into his own hand and heroically putting a stop to mass desecration of G-d's name. He was rewarded by becoming an honorary Kohen (and his descendants too.)
Then we have the amazing incident of the "Daughters of Tzelofchad". These five special women, Machlah, Noa, Choglah, Milkah and Tirtzah were the only offspring of their father. As their father had no sons, it seemed there would be no one to inherit his portion in the Land of Israel, as up till this point, the Torah had only mentioned inheritance passing on to sons. They stood up and spoke to Moses and Aaron, asking them if it was fair that their father should lose his portion only because he lacked sons.
G-d informed Moses that the women's claim was correct, that they themselves should inherit the land! The commentaries ask, "Why didn't the Torah mention this law earlier? Why wait until the question came up?" The answer, is that this law was destined be recorded in the Torah in the merit of these women, who could have remained silent, but chose to make their voice heard.
And finally, we read of Moses' successor Joshua. At this stage in his life, he was a student, who served Moses faithfully. But as Moses is preparing to pass away, G-d instructs him to bequeath some of his holiness to Joshua in the eyes of the whole nation, to prepare him for his role as the future leader of the Jewish people.
These men and women were not nearly as famous as others. But by acting when no one else could, their deeds carried enormous weight. In our lives, we each have a little of the zealotry of Pinchas, the bravery of Tzelofchad's daughters, and the leadership capabilities of Joshua. By knowing when to tap into these inner powers, we too can change the world for the better.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Akiva Hall