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Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

“Only by lot shall the land be divided, according to the names
of their fathers shall they receive it as a possession.” (Numbers 26:55)

There is a scene in the epic TV series The West Wing, in which Joey Lucas argues with Josh Lyman about the meaning of some polling statistics. She defends her interpretation and challenges him to rethink the administration’s policy approach with powerful imagery: “Otherwise they’re like the French radical watching the crowd run by and saying: ‘There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.’” (S2:E14)

Leadership is the central topic in Parashat Pinchas. God informs Moses he will die after gazing out into Canaan from the heights of Avarim (Num. 27:12). Moses accepts his fate but then asks God to appoint his successor immediately and to choose someone who will, “ … go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in … “ (Num. 27:16-17).

Some commentators interpret “before them” physically/literally ala the Israeli military leadership ethos of acharai, or after me! (Sifrei Bamidbar 139:2). Others, like Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagen (1838-1933; outstanding scholar and ethicist) identify those who do not “go out before them,” as p’nei hador kifnei hakelev, leaders with the character of a dog (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 49b); a supposed leader who like a dog, runs ahead, but always looks back to its master to see which way to go.

Leadership is a central topic in today’s world, too. And while a leader can’t get too far in front of the crowd, Pinchas is  a reminder: being in front is the only place a real leader will be.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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