Pinchas: A Path to Follow

Our masters taught: The man gathering was Zelophehad. Thus is is said, “And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks of wood upon the Sabbath day….and they stoned him with stones, and he died” (Num. 15:32 and 15:36); while elsewhere the daughters of Zelophehad said, “Our father died in the wilderness” (Num. 27:3). Just as in this instance Zelophehad is meant, so, too, Zelophehad [is meant] earlier. Such was R. Akiva’s opinion. But R. Judah ben Betera said to him, “Akiva, in either case you will have to justify yourself: if you are right, then you have revealed the identify of a man whom the Torah shielded; and if you are wrong, you are casting stigma upon a righteous man.”
–from B. Shabbat 96b and quoted in Bialik/Ravnitzky Legends of the Jews (p. 699 #104)

For more discussion on what should and should not be repeated — about someone in or outside the pages of the Torah — see both sources noted above. Shabbat 97a continues with a similar story of rabbis effectively “telling tales” on Aaron in discussing Miriam’s leprosy reported Numbers/Bamidbar 12:9; Bialik/Ravnikzy offer a host of sources on “Slander and Disclosing Another’s Secret,” as well as other topics concerning guarding the tongue (shmirat ha-lashon). Many references in both places.

For more on Zelophehad and his sin, one place to begin is the Jewish Encyclopedia, which offers many references to follow.

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