Monday, June 24, 2013

You Who Choose To Lead Must Follow (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Ripple")

With the conclusion of the last final exam, the last in class party, and the “goodbye’s”, our three younger children finished 7th, 5th and 3rd grade respectively.  As they happily came into the house, and dumped their knapsack in the hall for the last time of this school year, they showed us their report cards. I am always amazed what adults say to our children when they hear about their grades. Actually my amazement has more to do with how utterly silly the comments tend to be and the genuine fear that the comments will serve as a “turn-off” to our children’s continued effort in the particular subject and success.  When our children are asked about their grades, and they mention their grades in Talmud and Tanach, and all things Jewish, someone always asks, “Are you going to be a Rabbi like your father?” If I am standing there, they look at me; eyes open wide, with a slight look of apprehension. I nod to them and they smile and say “no”.  The question is usually asked of our son, but each of our daughters has been asked the question.  While our son used to say that he wanted to be a Rabbi, his answer has subtly evolved. No, he doesn’t want to be a rabbi. While he would like to learn: learn Tanah, learn Talmud, study Judaism and live an observant life; he aspires to other things. Neither his mother nor I encourage him to be a Rabbi but instead gently discourage him from the life of a pulpit Rabbi.
This Shabbat we read from Parsha Pinchas. The first few Psukim of the Parsha are a direct continuation of the previous Parsha: Balak. There is no elapse of time in the narrative. Parsha Balak concludes with a plague upon Bnai Yisroel for its worship of Moabite/Midianite god, Baal Peor. Aaron’s son Pinchas zealously acts by killing Zimri from the tribe of Shimon and Cozbi the Midianite woman. God tells Moshe to reward Pinchas for his behavior by giving him the Brit Shalom, the Covenant of Peace. This covenant is only for Pinchas and his descendants. Keeping in mind that B’nai Yisroel has now concluded it 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and are poised upon the eastern bank of the Jordan River; a new census is taken. Just like we needed to know how many left Egypt, we now need to know how many will enter into Eretz Canaan. After the census is taken Moshe must judge a legal case concerning the laws of inheritance when a man has only daughters. This brief narrative is about the “Daughters of Tzelophchad”. Following this narrative, God commands Moshe to teach the new generation the laws for time bound offerings including the Shabbat offering, the Rosh Chodesh offering, the offerings for the Shelosh Regalim (Three Pilgrimage Festivals etc).
             God also tells Moshe Rabeinu that his time as leader and in fact his life is quickly drawing to a close and that he should put his affairs in order (27:12-18). Given the opportunity this incredible opportunity to put his affairs in order, the most glaring concern that Moshe has is publicly naming and endorsing his successor. On the one hand, it is an obvious choice. The Torah mentioned two men who were there at Sinai and were eligible to enter into Canaan: Caleb and Joshua. Of the two, Joshua has received far more print. After all, he warned Moshe of Bnai Yisroel’s behavior with the Egel Zahav, he fough the Amalekites while Moshe held up his hands. Joshua has served as Moshe’s right hand for all these years.  Yet Moshe, as smart as he is, as prophetic as his spirit is, still speaks to God in the hope that God will make the choice: Yifkod Adoshem Elokai Haruchot L’Chol Basar Ish Al Ha’Eidah. May Hashem, God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, Asher Yeitzei Lifneihem va’Asher Yavo Lifneihem Va’Asher Yevieim V’Lo Tiheyeh Adat Adoshem Katzon Asher Ein Lahem Roehwho 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 sheep that have no shepherd. (27:16-17). Indeed God makes a choice. The question is: why didn’t Moshe just nominate Joshua using the language of the two Psukim and invoking the qualities enumerated in these two psukim?
 It seems that maybe Moshe was hoping for a different answer.  Bemidbar Rabbah, the Talmudic Sages commentary on the book of Bemidbar, makes the following comment: What prompted Moshe to make this request immediately after the chapter dealing with the laws of inheritance? Since the daughters of Zelophehad inherited their father, Moshe said: Now is the time to make my claims. If daughters inherit, then it is only right that my sons inherit my glory! Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to him: ‘Who so keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof’ (Proverbs 27:18). Your sons idled away their time and did not occupy themselves with the study of the Torah, but as for Joshua, much did he minister to you and much honor did he apportion you… Since he served you with all his strength it were meet for him to minister to Israel that he doesn’t lose his reward. Take Joshua son of Nun” The Talmud adds: Why do not the children of scholars usually turn out to be scholars? Said Rabbi Yosef: That it should not be said that the Torah came to them by inheritance” (Nedarim 71a).  Rather, Torah is inherited by those who labor in it, who study it, who struggle with it and wrestle with it. A scholar’s son may engage in such activities but he does so because of his own volition, not because of his father.
             As parents we always hope our children will do well in school. More importantly we stress that they should put forth an honest effort. More importantly we hope that they will discover their own academic interests, not because they are mine and my wife’s but rather because each recognizes his/her own intellectual curiosity  about various subjects and wishes to pursue them because each has made it their own.
Rav Yitz

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