Parshat Pinchas : Choosing An Appropriate Leader


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27:15/16- Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: “Let the Lord, the G-d of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation…”

27:18- The Lord said to Moses, “Take for yourself Joshua the son of Nun, a man of spirit, and you shall lay your hand upon him.

Why did Moshe Rabbenu specifically ask for a person/man to be the leader of Klal Yisrael. Why not ask for an angel, or even a Tzadik on the level of an Angel?  And why, if the parshat is called Pinchas, was Joshua chosen as Moshe Rabbenue’s successor to lead the Jewish people into the land of Israel?

Clearly, the answer is to be found in the qualities of leadership needed at that time and the differences in character of Pinchas on the one hand and Joshua on the other.

G-d knows, and so do the truly righteous, that leadership cannot be defined by extreme and solitary behaviour. The extremist ordinarily appeals to, and willingly followed, by only one segment of the population. The rest of the group complies because of threats, fear or general apathy. This is not true leadership. The true leader for the Jewish people has to lead all, not just a chosen few, because he has personal credibility beyond toughness. At the other extreme, indifferent popularity trades on apathy does not serve the group in the most productive fashion. A leader’s character must personify active, sincere care of and contribution to community. They must proclaim a personal lifestyle that sets an example for all, they must also show the ability to be forward thinking and know, or at least prepare for, what lies ahead. Moshe knew this in his pursuit of a leader for all of Klal Yisrael. This is why he asked for a human being and not an angel, or a leader just for the “religious elite”. Also true Jewish leaders know that one must create an environment where one, even the Rosha (wicked person that denies Torah), can thrive and grow to live a G-d focused life.

Pinchas’s actions as a leader were too extreme. Moreover, some commentaries say he was a “lone-wolf” unsuited to moulding a diverse group into a united nation. Pinchas virtuously and zealously avenges the honour of G-d with good intentions, but also reveals an abstract, isolationist style that is really only effective in a vacuum and, if even if outside that narrow confine, only for short periods of time. A extremist style usually appeals only to extreme segments in a community and can be a cause of communal fractioning. Hashem, while acknowledging the good intentions of Pinchas, does not see him suitable a leader to help the Jewish people forge ahead in a new land at a new time with very different circumstances to what they had been accustomed to.

Joshua, on the other hand, who had trained under Moshe, was not only a capable military commander, but was also a learned religious leader and teacher. Having military leadership skills, not only religious leadership abilities, shows us that he had good understanding of what the Jewish nation would need in order to face the near future as the nation moving into being settled state. In the desert, a strong spiritual leader had been needed to assist G-d as he provide for his people. Now the Jewish people would have to take greater responsibility for their military, lifestyle and economic survival, engaging in active partnership with G-d. Joshua’s leadership style as a teacher and a military commander of the Jewish people in a land amongst many other nations would provide the necessary leadership that would enable survival in a new environment amongst many varying nations, many hostile, in a land that needed to be tended for the necessities of spiritual and economic prosperity.

Today, true Jewish leaders know that while we must make every effort to create a holy place to dwell in, for both G-d and mankind, we must also remain connected to the place where one lives, as well as the wider world around us and know how to live and survive amongst many different nations, peoples and modernity (diverse society and influences). As Jew’s we must not isolate ourselves or shut ourselves off, from, the wider world and the things that G-d has bestowed upon us. This idea is especially important for our leaders and Tzadikim who must also remain connected to where they live and the wider world around them. As teacher of Hashem’s values one cannot properly lead and inspire followers unless they live and breathe in not only the Judaic world, but the wider world as well, as almost all Jews have to do on a daily basis.

As a note: after Joshuas death, there was no appointed leader for the Jewish people and the nation began to sin shortly after his death.

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