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

“He laid his hands upon him and commissioned him—
as the Lord had spoken through Moses.” (Numbers 27:23)

Moses is such a towering Biblical personality it’s surprising when commentators portray him as a regular human being. In Parashat Pinchas, God informs Moses he will die after gazing out into Canaan from the heights of Avarim (Num. 27:12). According to Midrash Tanchuma (~9th Century; rabbinic commentary) Moses assumes his son will “take over the family business” and succeed him as leader of the Israelite people (Pinchas 11). God says no, that’s not going to happen. Lesson one: leadership is not an inherited right, it is an earned privilege.

So Moses appeals to God using a special name, “…Elohei haruchot l’chol basar, the Lord, Source of the breath/spirit of all flesh…” to appoint someone to watch over the people. Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) explains Moses is asking God to find a leader who will appreciate each Israelite’s unique qualities. God responds by telling Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, ish asher ruach bo, a man with spirit in him…” (Num. 27:18) Rashi claims Joshua is fit for leadership because of his ability to respond to each person’s individuality. Lesson two: leadership is not a one-size-fits-all proposition; leaders must be attuned to the diversity of human conditions and to lead accordingly—and inclusively.

Moses addresses God as Elohei haruchot l’chol basar, a name used only twice in the Torah. Each time it’s in the context of a leadership lesson (the other is Num. 16:22, in the story of Korach’s rebellion). The Torah’s focus on individuality highlights two truths: diversity is a reality and Jewish leadership requires an inclusive mindset.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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