June 15, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 15, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Raising Leaders, Instilling Leadership

For all of its length, Parashat Pinchas contains only three stories, and a wistful sadness underlies all three of them.  The parsha opens with the second half of the story of Pinchas, as he is now rewarded for his courageous actions in the face of a mass communal sin.  After a census of the nation, the five daughters of Tzelofchad come forward, demanding that their father’s portion in the Land not be lost.  Finally, Moshe is told that his time to die has come, news that Moshe greets by requesting that Hashem appoint his successor.

At first glance, it seems that the illustrious and unparalleled career of Moshe is doomed to finish not with a bang, but with a whimper.  The Gemara in Sanhedrin 82a relates that Moshe stood by, unable to stop Zimri from sinning with the Midianite princess and that the exact law in this case was concealed from him.  Pinchas, of his own initiative, stepped forward and put a stop to the tremendous desecration of God’s name that was taking place.  In the story of the daughters of Tzelofchad, Moshe once again seems stumped by their demand.  Despite having been taught every detail of the Torah during his sojourn on Har Sinai, Moshe appears unable to recall this specific law, and is compelled to turn to God to “remind” him of the proper ruling.  When that story is immediately followed by God’s instruction to Moshe to ascend the mountain where he will die, we could be forgiven for seeing this once-proud leader of the Jews slinking off the stage, seemingly no longer able to meet the demands of the new generation of his people.

However, a closer look at these three stories can bring out that, in fact, the exact opposite is the case.  Moshe does not recede from history – he actively and consciously passes it on to the next generation.  When God tells him that it is time to die, Moshe does not quietly accept his fate, but rather protests that no one has been chosen to serve in his stead and thus the nation runs the risk of being “like sheep without a shepherd.”  Ensuring a peaceful and successful succession is perhaps the most important act that a leader can do on behalf of those that he leads, and Moshe rises to that challenge.  I would suggest that the two preceding stories gave him the confidence that the nation had a rising generation of leaders who would be able to assume the mantle that he was leaving behind.  Both Pinchas and the daughters of Tzelofchad are noteworthy for their ability and willingness to stand up when no one else was doing so.  Respectfully yet confidently they each approached Moshe, ascertaining the contours of the halacha, yet having no doubt that they would be the ones to step forward and correct the apparent injustice.  Faced with these budding young leaders, Moshe could now accept his fate, sure in the knowledge that he had succeeded at his most important mission – instilling in the next generation what it meant to be a leader of the Jewish people.

This week, many of us sent our children off to camp and summer programs overseas, a moment that is often filled with some parental anxiety.  On the simplest level, we will miss having our precious progeny around for the next several weeks.  Of greater concern is whether or not our children will be able to make the right choices when we are not there to steer them onto the right path on a daily basis.  Our sincerest hope is that we have instilled in our children the moral compass and sense of initiative that they will need to demonstrate that they, like the generation that Moshe was leaving, are ready to begin assuming their roles as the future leaders of our community.

Rabbi Aaron Ross, Ed.D. is Assistant Principal at Yavneh Academy in Paramus.  He blogs about issues in Jewish education at jewishedd.blogspot.com

Rabbi Aaron Ross, Ed.D.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles