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Parshat Pinchas 2018
What do we expect of leaders as they approach the end of their career? To worry about their heritage? About making money? Or about who is going to take over caring for the people? In recent weeks, and today, we have had the opportunity to evaluate potential leaders to replace Moshe who, we all know, will not enter the Promised Land.
Our first candidate appeared a few weeks ago. Korach. He was quickly rejected because his motivation was mainly material: the perks and honor of being the leader.
Then last week, after the tragi-comic story of Bilaam and his talking ass, we were introduced to Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon the first High Priest. Here was a man of action, one who saw, understood and then did what had to be done. In this case he killed two people who were behaving lewdly in front of Moshe and the elders of the Israelites. Today, we were told, he is given the priesthood in eternity and a covenant of peace.
Is this not a leader for the people? One whose heart and soul are with the people, and who is not afraid to take the measures needed to keep order in the camp? But wait, today we also met other candidates, at least theoretically, because these were women who at that time did not lead the people. These are the five daughters sired by Zelofchad who died in the desert (but not with Korach’s goons). They had no brothers. Their logical request – to inherit the land allotted to their father.
What great values they represent. They are five sisters working together. They have a love for the land – they want to enter and inherit land in Canaan. And they value tradition, as they present their argument politely (but firmly) to the proper authorities, Moshe and God.
So, we have Korach (now dead), Pinchas, and the daughters of Zelofchad. At this point, Moshe puts in his list of what he thinks the potential leader must have. First, he addresses God as the lord of all the spirits of all living beings. The rabbis interpret this to mean that he is asking for a person who will be able to read the hearts and minds of all the people (as Moshe has done). This means he should not be so ideologically biased that he cannot accept some members of the nation. That is not Pinchas’s forte.
Pinchas was for the people and their ideal values, but his actions indicate a tendency toward extremism, which usually excludes certain elements of the people.
The next condition Moshe mentions: One who can go out in front of the nation and come in before them, one who can bring them out and bring them in, so that the community of God will not be like sheep without a shepherd.
That leaves out Zelofchad’s daughters. A leader is one person – you can have a triumvirate, but one person must make the final decision. The five daughters work well together but are they capable individually? Have they had any experience leading others? No one knows.
And now for the envelope. God selects the person who has been Moshe’s dedicated pupil and servant for these many years. Joshua. He is a person with spirit in him, God says, and you shall lay your hand upon him. You will present him to Elazar the Priest and to the whole people and you will introduce him to them all.
We’re being given a formula here for the proper transfer of power, for the proper investment of leaders: A training period and then checking the candidate’s qualities. Unfortunately, we don’t see it happening today, not here, not there, not anywhere. Part of the fault lies with the democratic process. Part with the money needed to run for office.
When we look at the elections being held in democratic or quasi-democratic countries around the world, we don’t see hand-picked leaders. That actually is not such a bad thing when we remember the decisions that used to be made in smoke-filled back rooms. At the same time we don’t see many leaders who can lead the people in and out, who care so intensely for the people that their welfare is foremost in their minds and their policies.
Those who push for trade wars may be trying to protect their own country, or they could be thinking of lining their own pockets. Some of those who push for religion may truly believe in the spirit of God and the need to behave properly, but in too many cases these leaders fall into the “do as I say and not as I do” category.
Under such circumstances our tendency is to turn to the newly arrived knight in shining armor. The one who is going to bring light and right to the fore and lead us all into a sunset where we all live happily ever after.
But a funny thing may happen on the way to the sunset. Unseen traps grab your feet, and intrigues divert you. The newcomer believes that good will and/or a show of force and/or a dollop of schmaltz for shmearing may be able to smooth out all the rough patches.
Once in a long while such an approach will work. Usually it doesn’t. Check recent history for examples. We are left with Moshe’s main lesson: you need leaders who really care about those they lead, and not their own pockets or seats.
Without good leadership, the ills from above percolate down into our everyday lives. Eventually the consequences will be disastrous, as our people learned 2000 and 2600 years ago. The three week period before Tisha B’Av is a good time to contemplate this.