Parashat Pinchas– Erev Shabbat 2 July 2021
Week of 27 June to 3 July 2021
Torah portion: Numbers 25:10-30:1 Haftarah: Jer 1:1-2:3
Title: Joshua succeeds Moses
With the Israelites’ forty-year journey in the wilderness coming to an end, this parashah looks forward to their entry into the Land of Promise. It is concerned with stability, continuity, distribution of land, inheritance, and leadership (Eskenazi 961).
One story stands out in particular about inheritance and leadership—the story of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah who request their fair share of the land of their father, Zelophehad (27:1-11). Tamara Eskenazi notes that these women are named in every episode recounted about them because they “initiate a Torah Law, a legal precept that becomes a legacy for future generations” (961). This is of particular advantage to women disadvantaged under patriarchal structures.
Following this remarkable story, the focus turns to the issue of the succession of Moses’ leadership. Having been shown the land into which he will not be allowed to enter (27:12-14) because of the incident at Meribah (Num 20), Moses now requests that God appoint a new leader so that the community will not be like a flock that has no shepherd (27:16-17).
Shepherd, a common metaphor in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, is applied to Moses, David, and Jesus—the former two were actual shepherds at one point in their lives (see Exod 3:1; Ezek 34:23; Matt 18:12; and John 10:1-18). There are also numerous instances when God is referred to as a shepherd (Ezek 35:12, 15; Pss 23:1, 78:52, 80:1, 100:3; Matt 2:6; Mark 6:3; and Luke 15:4-7).
Eskenazi notes that the “scene is filled with pathos, especially since Moses’ foremost concern does not focus on his loss but on the fate of the people bereft of a leader” (974). Moses asks for a “person among persons; someone human, not superhuman; a person, not a burning zealot like Phinehas” (Hacohen, Al ha-Torah, Vol. IV in Plaut, 1093).
Moses requests that God choose a leader who “shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in” (27:17). Plaut (1093) provides the following Chasidic understanding of the qualities of a leader: “A leader of people must take care to ‘take them out’ from corruption and ‘bring them in’ to holiness.” This cannot be achieved by regulating their behavior so totally that they cannot engage in acts that would lead to their corruption, but rather it might be achieved by showing them the way to live in holiness.
Both Plaut (1093) and Eskenazi (975) focus on the fact that the quality of Joshua’s leadership singled out in the pericope is that he is inspired (lit. a person filled with “spirit”, Heb. ruach). Here Plaut notes that “only those who know their own spirit can know the needs of others” (Plaut, 1093). Another Midrash comments that part of Joshua’s greatness as leader, was that he would perform even the most menial tasks and that he would petition forcefully for the needs of the community (Plaut, 1093).
For Reflection and Discussion: How do I understand leadership? Where do I encounter it? Where do I demonstrate it, especially where oppression and marginalization are problematic?
Bibliography: Eskenazi, ed. The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (URJ, 2008); Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 1995); Levine & Brettler, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 2nd Edn (Oxford, 2017); Plaut and Stein, eds., The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised (URJ, 2006).
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Mark David Walsh, Melbourne,Australia, Bat Kol Alumnus: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2013