Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues

Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Pinchas

Leaderhip Qualities

Bircas Mordechai by Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rosh Yeshivas Ateres Yisrael, Yerushalayim

Moshe spoke to the Lord, saying: "Let the Lord, the G-d of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd." (Bemidbar 27:15-17)

Rashi: Let the Lord… appoint: When Moshe heard that the Omnipresent told him to give Tzelofchad's inheritance to his daughters, he said, "It is time to ask for my own needs - that my son should inherit my high position." The Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, That is not My intention, for Yehoshua deserves to be rewarded for his service, for he "would not depart from the tent" (Shmos 33:11). This is what Shlomo meant when he said, "He who guards the fig tree eats its fruit" (Mishle 27:18). - [Mid. Tanchuma Pinchas 11]

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, comments on the juxtaposition of the incident of Tzelofchad's daughters with the appointment of Yehoshua bin Nun to succeed Moshe. The Midrash says that after the daughters of Tzelofchad took care of their matter of inheritance, Moshe began to think about his own "Estate" and reasoned that if Tzelofchad's daughters inherited from their father, it followed that his own children should inherit his position of honor.

He came, as it were, to G-d and said "Master of the Universe, I am getting old. We need a new leader. I want my sons to take over."

G-d responded to Moshe that Yehoshua deserved this position for he never left Moshe's side. He was Moshe's trusted disciple and he would become the next leader of Israel.

The Yalkut refers to Hashem's response with some more detail:

G-d said to him, "Moshe, it is not like you think. Your sons will not inherit your position. You know that Yehoshua served you with devotion and showed you much respect. Morning and evening he was the one who arranged the benches in your academy and spread down the carpets. He shall take the rule. As it says, 'He who guards a fig-tree shall eat its fruit" (Mishle 27:18).

Studying this Midrash, writes Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, reveals to us the Heavenly view of the qualifications of a leader. Our worldly perception does not compare to the pure vision of the Torah. To us it would appear that the choice of a leader must take into consideration his talents and qualifications vis-ŕ-vis the different responsibilities he is about to enter. Therefore, our human eyes search for one who can take charge of the armed forces, can give orders, has leadership skills, etc.; thus our human gaze scrutinizes all the candidates for specifically these prerequisites.

However, Moshe Rabbeinu's model is the true Torah measure of a leader.

Moshe was not searching for someone simply worthy. He was searching for one suitable of being his successor. This is the model for a leader of Klal Yisroel.

According to this it must be that Moshe's children fit all the requirements. They were very well suited for the holy responsibilities of leadership. They had been privileged to observe their holy father from the closest possible vantage point. Daily, hourly, they had scrutinized their father's activities, his every move, in every situation. They had been together with him as he struggled for 40 years with all the trials and tribulations that Klal Yisroel had put him through. They watched him deal with all the rebelliousness and disobedience of the people. They most definitely had his Divine aptitudes in their genes.

All this had prepared them for the exalted responsibility of being the successors of their father's position.

And yet, in spite of that, the Heavenly gaze saw differently. Heaven saw deep into the depths, and was concerned about the true nature of the leader who was going to embark on the eternal inheritance of the land for the nation of Yisroel. Heaven was focused on the most accurate succession of Moshe's teaching and its transmission to all the generations to come afterwards. This Heavenly vision revealed to us that there was something in Yehoshua that was not to be found in Moshe's sons. Yehoshua had served his rebbe Moshe, had honored him, he had organized the benches and the carpets in the Beis Medrash. This had diffused aptitudes into him that he could not have obtained without these actions.

These activities were not merely a matter of his just reward. Rather, they were the training and preparation that was necessary to create a true leader.

This is what the successor of Moshe Rabbeinu must look like. Wars and conquest are performed by Heaven. They already had been promised victory. The Holy Ark would go before them and level mountains and straighten valleys. But all this depended upon the quality and the very essence of the leader of Klal Yisroel.

Setting up the benches and spreading down the carpets in the Beis Medrash were something only Yehoshua was able to appreciate, as a service to his rebbe, as an honor to his rebbe. He was worthy of being the successor of Moshe Rabbeinu. Perhaps we can add something.

The singular and most famous title attached to Moshe was the title "Rabbeinu": he was the rebbe of the entire nation of Yisroel. He wasn't called their prophet, he wasn't called their king, he wasn't called their head, he wasn't called their wise-man, and not even their leader. He was only called Moshe Rabbeinu - our teacher, our rebbe.

When a successor to Moshe was being sought, Heaven sought not merely a leader like Moshe, but a Rabbeinu like Moshe. Perhaps we can word it differently: the "Rabbeinu" of Moshe isn't some extra facet; rather that is the quality of our leader.

Hakadosh Baruch Hu revealed to Moshe Rabbeinu that Yehoshua was better and more fitting for the job. He was worthy of being the Rebbe of the entire Klal Yisroel. Why? Because, you, Moshe, "know" how he served you and honored you. He cared about the Beis Medrash; he was dedicated to all the students there.

This was the additional difference between Moshe's sons and Yehoshua. But not just a simple difference. These were the actions which trained and fashioned the individual towards greatness.

How distant our vision is from the real pure Torah vision. This is a powerful revelation from Chazal.


* * *

After all this, the choice to declare Yehoshua the successor leaves us stunned. Is that really the correct way to weigh the issues? Just because he served and honored Moshe in the Beis Medrash; just because he arranged the benches and spread down the carpets, that is called the "planting" that warranted his "eating the fruits of his labor"?

We need to remember the famous statement of Chazal: Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: "Every day a divine voice goes forth from Mount Horeb and proclaims: The whole world is sustained for the sake of My son Chanina, and Chanina My son subsists on a kav (small measure) of carobs from one week end to the next." (Berachos 17b)

The self-contained paradox in that statement is enough to arouse our curiosity. But was that exactly Chazal's intention? Were they merely trying to attract our superficial attention? What profound message is lying within this sharp proclamation? Secondly, we haven't yet grasped the connection between Chanina's "subsistence" and his great merit that "the whole world is sustained" because of him. What is the connection between these two issues, and why are Chazal pointing out the contradiction between them? Certainly there is a very profound thought to be derived from this statement.

If the whole world is sustained because of my son Chanina, it must be that they really are receiving his sustenance and his livelihood. It means that Chanina cannot be satisfied as long as the entire world is starving.

The sustenance of the world flows down only because of Chanina. If we look at his physical needs he requires only one kav of carob. However, in reality Chanina needs the sustenance of the entire world. That is the fantastic contradiction Chazal found. They weren't surprised by his extreme frugality, but by his vast needs which encompassed the entire world.

* * *

"Yehoshua arranged the benches." Not merely so the Beis Medrash should look neat, but rather because if Ploni didn't have his bench, Yehoshua himself felt that he didn't have a bench. Ploni's needs bothered Yehoshua. Because Ploni's learning was Yehoshua's learning.

Yehoshua's physical body needed only one bench to sit on. But Yehoshua himself needed many benches, as many as there were talmidim of Moshe Rabbeinu.

"He showed you much respect." He didn't come merely to serve Moshe Rabbeinu. Honor and service to Moshe Rabbeinu were Yehoshua's spiritual sustenance.

* * *

When we have before us two spiritual giants to select from, which one will be the successor of Moshe Rabbeinu, which one will be the leader of Klal Yisroel? Go and examine which one of them encompasses in his personal needs the entire Klal, and which one even more than that.

The best and most appropriate leader will be that one to whom another's needs are essential for himself.

The more that one's individual personality encompasses more of the Klal, the more appropriate he is to be the leader of Klal Yisroel, the successor of Moshe.

And only one who prepared himself to say, "Erase my name from the Sefer which You have written" (total self denigration for the general good), only that one who prepared himself to feel that he has absolutely no existence and no being without the existence of Klal Yisroel, only he can be a Moshe Rabbeinu, and such are his successors.

* * *

It is very possible that from the perspective of their individual personalities Moshe Rabbeinu's children were equal to Yehoshua. They were great personages just like him; Torah giants like him; benevolent like him. And yet Yehoshua was more of a "Moshe" than his children.

Because…. Yehoshua arranged the benches.

Because…. Yehoshua served Moshe.

Because…. Yehoshua did all this, not simply as a special act, as a form of self-sacrifice, just because it's a mitzvah….

But because it was essential for his own being! It was his essence.

That was Yehoshua, and that is a leader.

The whole world receives its sustenance because of Yehoshua, and Yehoshua himself - it is sufficient for him to be a simple talmid like any other talmid serving his rebbe Moshe. Therefore Yehoshua will be the successor of "Moshe."

"He who guards the fig tree eats its fruit."

This is how "fruit" is cultivated; this is how the "tree" is nurtured so that in all its glory that produces a "Moshe Rabbeinu", in each generation.

This is how to nurture the tree of leadership in order to enjoy its fruit.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff, or change your subscription, please contact:

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel