Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Pinchas
To dedicate this lesson

The "Son" of the "Sun"


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tamuz 18 5780
One of the marks of a true leader is that he places the needs of his community or his nation above his own personal needs. And that includes insuring that when it is his time to go, another leader of equal or greater stature will take his place. Moshe represented this model perfectly: During his tenure as leader of Israel, he always put the nation on the highest pedestal. He argued in their defense when they sinned, he saw to it that they had whatever they needed to survive; even when he chastised them, it was purely for their own good.

And now, when Moshe has been told he may not enter Eretz Yisrael, and so the people will have to be guided by a new shepherd, Moshe struggles to convince Hashem who his appropriate successor should be. There are a few candidates: First, Moshe hoped that one of his sons would take over for him, as generally happens in a dynasty or kingship (and Moshe indeed had the status of a king!). But - perhaps precisely to indicate that true leadership is a meritocracy, rather than an aristocracy - G-d rejects this proposal.

All right, then perhaps the next leader might be Pinchas. After all, Pinchas has shown bold initiative, in his disposal of Zimri in last week's Sedra, & received G-d's accolade for it. Pinchas was a VIP, a Kohen Gadol from whom all future Kohanei Gadol will descend. But Moshe is wary: he uncharacteristically initiates contact with the Almighty ("Vay'daber Moshe el Hashem!") & addresses Him as "Elokei ha-Ruchot," the "G-d of spirits." Rashi explains this to mean that people differ from one another in temperament, ideas and personality. A leader must be tolerant of all types, since each one of us is a "Tzelem Elokim," a part of G-d's image. This was a veiled hint that Pinchas, for all his merit, might have a problem with relating to the different elements of society & so not be the perfect leader.

In fact, this is hinted to by the second and third p'sukim in our Sedra, respectively, where the name "Pinchas" is spelled with a tiny "Yud," and the word "Shalom" is spelled with a small "Vav." These 2 letters spell out a name of G-d, thus implying that, as noble as Pinchas's act was, the violence he displayed diminished Hashem's name and image.

In the end, of course, it is Yehoshua who is chosen. As Moshe's faithful protege - in effect, a son - Yehoshua had learned from the master how to deal with a population as diverse & demanding as the people of Israel. Yehoshua is described as the moon, & Moshe as the sun, to indicate that Yehoshua "reflected" the best values of his mentor, even as the moon reflects the light of the sun. Yehoshua would go on to become a great leader in his own right; he would conquer the 7 nations of Canaan, as surely as he conquered the urge to be intolerant.
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