Parshas Pinchas #1
“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.
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