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Moshe's Loss Is Our Gain

01/02/2020 03:43:33 PM


Rabbi Mordechai Bookbinder


What a contrast in this week’s parsha!

At the beginning of it, we are how Moshe’s brother, Aaron, was to merit having his grandson, Pinchas, succeed him in the role as Cohen Gadol (High Priest). Every parent instinctively understands that there is a certain simcha in being able to see their child or grandchild follow in their footsteps.

Toward the end of the parsha, knowing that he has been forbidden from entering that Land of Israel, and that his time is shortly coming to an end, Moshe asks HaShem to “appoint a [new leader] over the assembly..., and let the assembly of HaShem not be like sheep what have no shepherd.”

There is always a story behind the story, and that is usually where all the action is. The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabba) tells us that shortly after Pinchas was appointed as the new Cohen Gadol, Moshe asked HaShem to allow his sons to succeed him. HaShem replied that Moshe’s sons were not as worthy as Joshua, Moshe’s attendant. It is said that Joshua never strayed from Moshe’s side and spent all his time learning as much as he could from his mentor. The Medrash tells us that "While the face of Moshe shone like the sun, Joshua’s face shone like the moon.” Certainly, Moshe was greater than Joshua; nevertheless, Joshua was a great force to be reckoned with in his own right.

Shortly after this incident, Moshe was approached by the daughters of Tzelafchad, a man who had died in the desert. Their question was straight forward: Jewish law allows for the male children to inherit the estate of a deceased parent. What about the situation where the parent leaves no sons and only has daughters? Can they not, then, inherit like the sons would have? Moshe goes and asks HaShem, Who responds that yes, indeed, daughters can too inherit like the sons in this instance.

Upon hearing this, the Medrash tells us that Moshe reasons that if HaShem is making an exception in the laws of inheritance for the daughters of Tzelafchad, then maybe now is also a good time for Moshe to ask for an exception so that his own sons can inherit the mantle of leadership from him! In response to this, HaShem answers Moshe “Take to yourself Joshua son of Nun...” Basically sorry Moshe but nothing doing.

So why is it that Aaron was allowed to have his position be appointed by a dynastic lineage, but Moshe was forbidden? Why was Aaron given the pleasure, but not Moshe? And what could we possibly learn from all this??

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks tells us that Moshe’s failure is actually a consolation to the entire Jewish People. Being from the tribe of Cohanim may be viewed as important, and may even confer certain benefits, but failing the presence of a functioning temple, it is currently little more than a titular advantage. The priesthood was always set up as a dynasty and their role is not so much as leaders, but rather servants (“Cohen” comes from the word meaning “to serve”).

Moshe, and the prophets who followed on the other hand, were the Jewish People’s leaders. It is exactly because Moshe’s position did not become dynastic, that each and everyone one of us have an equal opportunity to become a leader. Joshua’s appointment teaches us that Torah leadership is based on a meritocracy –and that each and every Jew who so desires, who is so inspired, can strive forth to achieve great levels of leadership and Torah.

Carpe Diem and have an amazing Shabbos! Rabbi Mordechai Bookbinder

Tue, June 18 2024 12 Sivan 5784