Read This First

Welcome to our Shabbos Table!

We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, click on "Click here to respond" or email us at
responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Pinchas #1

Leadership Skills

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, G-d of the spirits of all flesh should appoint a man over the congregation” (Bamidbar 27:15-16).

At the end of their forty years in the desert, the Jews would at last take possession of the Holy Land. The land was divided into twelve sections and lots were drawn to distribute it among the Tribes, to be subdivided among the families in each Tribe (Bamidbar 26:52-56). The distribution raised an interesting question. Plots would be assigned to male heads of families, and inherited by their male heirs. What would happen if a family entering the land had no sons, only daughters? This was the famous case of the five daughters of Tzelafchad, who came forward with a request: they asked for, and received, their deceased father’s share in Eretz Yisrael (ibid. 27:1-11). It was at this point that Moshe, who knew that he would not be leading the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael, asked Hashem to designate his eventual successor.

Why did Moshe choose to speak up about this now?

Chazal explain that when Moshe saw that the daughters of Tzelafchad had inherited from their father, he said, “The time has come for me to ask for my own needs. If daughters inherit, it is only right that my sons should inherit my position.” In other words, Moshe’s request was an expression of his hope that his sons would be the ones to lead the nation after him.

Hashem told him that this was not to be; Moshe’s sons were not sufficiently worthy of replacing him. His successor would instead be Yehoshua bin Nun, who was not a son, but a loyal student.

What were Yehoshua’s qualifications to lead? Chazal list the reasons Hashem gave Moshe: “Yehoshua served you greatly, and gave you much honor. And he would arrive early at your beis medrash and leave late, and arrange the benches and spread out the mats. Because he served you with all his strength, he is worthy of serving [the people of] Israel” (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:14).

In other words, Yehoshua would take over for Moshe because he had been Moshe’s personal attendant, and a good janitor! Why did these qualifications give him precedence over Moshe’s own sons?

Another midrash provides insight into what would otherwise appear to have been a rather surprising appointment.

Cleaning Up

The first part of the midrash explains that when Moshe had requested a leader for the nation, he addressed Hashem as “G-d of the spirits.” Hashem was familiar with the “spirit” of every individual member of the nation, and understood the heart of each one. No two people are alike, and Moshe asked for a leader who could be sympathetic to the needs and mindset of them all.

The second part of the midrash goes on to relate that while Moshe had wanted his sons to succeed him, he was informed that the next leader would be Yehoshua, who had straightened up Moshe’s beis medrash (Pesikta Zutresa Pinchas, p. 134b).

We can suggest that the second part of the midrash explains the first: Yehoshua, specifically because of his experience as Moshe’s assistant, was the leader who would understand the needs of the people and handle them with patience and compassion. We can better appreciate this by considering a small-scale contemporary parallel.

A certain lively, active shul is home to a number of regular minyanim and a morning kollel. The shul is furnished with tables, chairs, bookcases full of siddurim and chumashim, and a library of sefarim for those who come to learn. All the seats face the Aron Kodesh, but the people who learn there every day always rearrange the tables and chairs after davening, so that chavrusas can sit together when they learn. Between the furniture and the sefarim (not to mention the coffee cups and used tissues) left out on the tables, by the end of the day the beis medrash is in disarray. The first to walk in to the mess every morning are the regulars at the neitz (sunrise) minyan. Before they can start davening, they need to set up the furniture, return the piles of sefarim, and remove the litter. Those who left the mess should be the ones to clean it up, but for some reason, they don’t... and the frustration of the neitz minyan members, pressed into duty every morning, grows with every day, month, and year.

Apparently, Yehoshua, serving as the one-man cleanup crew in Moshe Rabbeinu’s beis medrash, encountered a similar situation. Every day he straightened up singlehanded, and every day, the job needed to be redone. Where was everyone else, and why were they so inconsiderate?

Yehoshua did not ask these questions. He took the initiative, shouldered the responsibility, and was able to take a calm, practical approach to these indications of thoughtlessness and laziness. In the shul setting, one person leaves behind a sefer or forgets a pen, another shifts the furniture without replacing it, and another still leaves a variety of litter. Some people are forgetful, others are careless or neglectful. In the desert, Yehoshua took care of the largest beis medrash in history. This role surely must have brought him into constant contact with the strengths and weaknesses of the many people coming to the beis medrash every day. This was clearly the man who could lead a nation, yet relate to and accept each individual.

Question for Discussion:

It is easy to make a mess, and even easier to ignore another person’s mess. Whether at home, school, or the office, our instinctive reaction is likely to be, “I didn’t do it,” and “it’s not my problem.” Yehoshua’s approach was that of a leader. What mattered was not assigning blame, but getting the job done for everyone’s benefit. What is an example of how you can help “straighten up,” either at home or elsewhere, even if it is not your mess?

Click Here To Respond

Parshas Pinchas #2

Every Day

“This is the sacrifice you will offer to Hashem: two perfect lambs [up to] a year old, two [every] day, a continuous burnt offering” (Bamidbar 28:3).

Parshas Pinchas includes the laws of two types of korbanos: the daily Tamid (“constant” or “continuous”) sacrifice, offered every morning and afternoon, and the Musaf (“additional”) sacrifice, offered on Shabbos, Yom Tov, and Rosh Chodesh. There were many sacrifices on any given day in the Beis HaMikdash, but the Tamid stood out: its unchanging consistency qualified it as constant, or tamid.

The Piskei Teshuvos draws a parallel between the Tamid in the Beis HaMikdash and another obligation which should be equally consistent and unchanging: kevias ittim l’Torah, setting aside a daily, non-negotiable time designated for Torah study. If we schedule a regular time for learning and stay with it faithfully, we are considered to be “constantly” or “continuously” engaged in Torah study, even though the actual kevius is only a short time out of a full twenty-four hours.

Staying with It

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 246:1) provides some guidelines for our kevias ittim. We need to set aside a regular, fixed daily time slot for Torah study, at the same time every day. We should not skip days, or switch the time around to suit our convenience. The careful structure is intended to ensure that we will stay with the kevius even when we are busy or pressured.

The achievements of R. Shlomo Gross, a businessman and beloved baal tzedakah and baal chessed from New York, were legendary. Throughout his short lifetime, wherever he went he was busy and involved with the needs of others. After his untimely passing, “Rav Avrohom Schorr spoke about the sheer gevurah that Shloimie had in being able to spend an hour and a half learning every morning with the same chavrusa for over twenty-five years, despite his gregarious personality… This was further enhanced by the fact that no matter how late he went to bed, he was there like clockwork the next day at six a.m.”(Yated Ne’eman,“Reflections Upon the Shloshim of Reb Shlomo Gross,” Moshe Feuer).

(Adapted from “Making It Work: A Practical Guide to Halachah in the Workplace.”)

Question for Discussion:

It is not easy to be consistent, staying with a commitment day after day without fail. What is an important daily commitment that you would like to implement in your life, and what can you do to make sure that you stick with it, come what may?

Click Here To Respond