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

“And you shall put of your honor upon him, that all the congregation of Israel may hearken.”
(Numbers 27:20)

Parashat Pinchas heralds two impending transitions. First, the census of military-age men indicates the Israelites are done wandering in the desert and must prepare to enter and conquer Canaan. Second, the appointment of Joshua as the next leader of the people means Moses is coming to the end of his tenure. Joshua is chosen for a specific leadership trait.

When Moses asks God to identify his successor, God says, “Take Joshua, son of Nun, to yourself, a person in whom there is spirit…” (Num. 27:18) Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) explains Joshua accounted for each individual’s spirit in making decisions. Rabbi Abraham Twerski (1930-; an American chassidic rabbi, and a psychiatrist specializing in substance abuse) observes this statement is as much about Moses as it is about Joshua.

Moses grows increasingly close with God throughout the desert trek. Indeed, the Torah states Moses is the only prophet, “…God knew face to face.” (Deut. 34:10) But this increasing intimacy with God is accompanied by an increasing distance from the Israelites. This culminates with Moses’ anger at the Israelites when they complain about water two weeks ago. Moses no longer remembers what human thirst feels like. Moses’ great sin is not lack of faith in God, it’s lack of empathy for the Israelites. And so God realizes it is time a new leader, who can “feel their pain.”

Joshua’s elevation to leader is significant also as a contrast to Pinchas, for whom the parasha (portion) is named. Pinchas is a zealot, whose passion for God drives him to vigilante justice. God rewards PInchas with the High Priesthood, but not the leadership mantel. Empathy always trumps zealotry.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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