A Drash for Pinchas 5768
by Marc Mangel
At the start of the Torah portion, God says to Moses “Pinchas…turned back my wrath from upon the Children of Israel when he zealously avenged My vengance among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in My vengance.”
“Therefore, say: Behold! I give him my Covenant of peace. And it shall be for him and hs offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood”.
Later in the portion, Moses asks God to appoint a leader to replace him.: “My HaShem, God of the spirits of all flesh appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in; and let the assembly of HaShem not be like a sheep that have no shepherd.”
Much later in the Torah portion (Ch 18) God tells Moses to install Joshua as his successor, before the entire assembly of Israel.
All of the commentators ask: Why is Joshua and not Pinchas made the successor of Moses? Virtually all of them also note that God never gives the criteria for leadership, so we must infer it from what happened.
There is, as we would expect, difference of opinion about what caused Pinchas to be passed over, but the majority opinion is that it was his very zealousness that made him unsuitable as a leader.
Rashi says that and says that the specific prayer of Moses was
“God of the spirits of all flesh, you know the minds of all men and how the mind of one man differs from that of another. Appoint over them a leader who will be able to bear with the differing spirits of every one of your children” and concludes that the “guiding principle is tolerance; treating one’s community with love and with the aim to serve them”
About this, Rav Joseph Radinsky, Modern Orthodox, writes that Moses is asking God to “Appoint a leader who will be able to bear with the differing minds of every one of your children”, ie that the leader must recognize the uniqueness of each of us.
Pinchas Peli concludes that the zealousness of Pinchas frightens Moses. And writes that “A true leader is not a single-minded fanatic, but a person able to tolerate all views”.
After Joshua is appointed, Rashi comments that Joshua is “a man who knows how to stand up against the spirit of each one of them”, about which Pinchas Peli comments that this is to teach us that to be tolerant does not mean to be passive or spineless.
A good leader must know his or her own views, and stand up for them but also must be able to change his or her mind as circumstances and information dictate. Peli writes “A good leader is not the person who says `My mind is made up – don’t confuse me with facts”.
And a leader must lead – as Moses says “who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in”. I just finished reading Rick Atkinson’s An Army At Dawn about the invasion and recapture of North Africa during WWII. Regardless of his many faults, Patton was correct in complaining that too few officers were getting killed relative to troops — the officers were not saying “Follow me”, for which the IDF leadership is famous.
Once more, Pinchas Peli: “Moses knows that it is one thing to take a people into war and another to get them out of the war and bring them back home. The second task is much harder. A true leader has to be capable of both.”
Our weaponry has improved much since the time of Moses and even since the time of Patton, but not our leadership. There is much to be learned from Parsha Pinchas for those who want to lead.