Divrei Torah

PARSHAS PINCHAS 5777

In the middle of this week’s Parsha, Moshe asks G-d to appoint a man who will be his successor to lead the Jewish people. Rashi teaches us that Moshe requested from G-d that his sons be his successor. However, G-d told Moshe that Yehoshua would be the next leader of the Jewish people. G-d saw that Moshe’s children did not have the qualities necessary for leadership of the Jewish people. In fact we read in the Book of Judges that one of his grandsons even became a priest for idolatry. We don’t know what happened to his other descendants.

However, G-d’s choice of Yehoshua as the successor to Moshe seems to be a curious one at best. After all, there were others who appeared to display better leadership qualities. In the end of last week’s parsha and the beginning of this week’s parsha, we read that Pinchas stepped forward and personally saved the Jewish people and stopped a plague by killing the prince of the Tribe of Shimon and the Midianite princess. He certainly displayed leadership qualities 

Then there was Calev, the husband of Miriam. He and Yehoshua were the two spies who returned with a positive report from their mission to investigate the land of Canaan. Our Rabbis teach us that he took the initiative to first go to the Cave of Machpeila and daven for a successful mission. In delivering his positive report about the Land, Calev stood up against the ten evil spies. We don’t find Yehoshua saying anything until later.

On the other hand, regarding Yehoshua, we find that Moshe davened that he should not be influenced by the ten evil spies. If Yehoshua was a strong personality, why did Moshe daven that he not be influenced by evil. Shortly before Moshe died, he charged Yehoshua – the next leader - with the words “Chazak Ve’ematz – be strong and courageous.” You don’t say that to somebody who already is strong. 

In the beginning of the Book of Yehoshua, G-d and the Jewish people command Yehoshua with those same words, “be strong and courageous in Torah, leadership, and punishing those who rebel against you.” Once again, you don’t say that to somebody who is a strong leader.

So, if Yehoshua displayed weakness of leadership and Pinchas and Calev displayed strength of leadership, why was Yehoshua chosen over them to follow the leadership of Moshe? 

Perhaps there are a couple of possible solutions in the Parsha and commentary of Rashi. The Torah describes Pinchas as a zealot. Zealots are not the most popular people in town. In their drive for truth, zealots can go to extreme behaviors that many people find objectionable, even though those behaviors are correct. The Talmud states that the people complained, “Who is Pinchas to kill a prince of the Jewish people? He is descended from a former idolatrous priest?” A person who is not too popular and whose behavior raises objections – even though he has all of the qualities and his behavior is correct – cannot lead the people. He will have a difficult time attracting followers. 

Other than the incident with the spies, we don’t find in the Chumash any other interaction with Calev. After the conquering of the land of Canaan, we find that Calev asked Yehoshua for the area of Hevron. 

On the other hand, Yehoshua had a couple of qualities essential for leadership. First, we don’t find that Yehoshua had objectors. Even Moshe had objectors. However, if you look through the Book of Yehoshua, you will find a beloved figure. Secondly, Yehoshua was a student of Moshe. He was what we call a “Talmid Muvhak” – Moshe’s main student who closely followed Moshe and learned from his ways. The Rabbis compare Moshe to the sun and Yehoshua to the moon. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so was Yehoshua a reflection of Moshe.

 

Moshe prophesied to the Jewish people that after his death, they will turn to idolatry. Yet, we find that it did not happen until after the death of Yehoshua. Why was that? For the Jewish people, as long as Yehoshua was alive, Moshe was alive.

 

Moshe was a leader  . . . G-d saw that Yehoshua would be the proper leader and Yehoshua did lead the people. It takes proper leadership to ensure proper results. G-d said that Yehoshua was the right man for the job because he learned from the greatest person ever – Moshe himself. The Talmud states, “Service of Torah is greater than learning Torah.” Yehoshua served Moshe with devotion and love and he used this experience to equip himself for a standout term of office even though he may have been lacking in certain respects. Yehoshua proved G-d and Moshe correct for trusting him.