There is a peculiar verse toward the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Pinhas. The portion begins with the aftermath of the zealous act of Pinhas, Aaron’s grandson, who violently intervenes to stop the people’s idolatrous apostasy at Baal Pe’or, ending the accompanying plague. Pinhas is granted a covenant of peace in response to his actions, and the people are commanded to “assail the Midianites” in retaliation.
We then get our curious half verse: “When the plague was over…God said to Moses and to Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, “Take a census of the whole Israelite community” (Numbers 25:19-26:2). The ellipsis here represents that the verse abruptly ends there; there is even a paragraph break in the text of the Torah before resuming with the new topic of the census of the people.
Critical Bible scholars suggest that perhaps this is an indication that the census and what follows was inserted here into the Torah, which would have otherwise continued with the story of the war with Midian, which we finally do read in chapter 31.
But this year, and after my wonderful time at Ramah Galim last week, I am more interested in the spiritual implications of the Torah inserting a pause “when the plague was over.” Perhaps the Torah is telling us that after experiencing the disruption, devastation, and loss of a plague (something that once happened every decade and not every century), we cannot simply move on. We need time to take stock, to reflect on lessons learned, before we simply move on to the next thing.
As I immersed myself for the first time in the Ramah Galim community last week, this is precisely what I saw. On that first morning, I led tefilot (prayers) for Solelim (the rising 6th and 7th graders) and I asked the chanichim (campers) to share something they were grateful for as we sang Modeh Ani. One offered: “I’m grateful to be at camp.”