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December 25, 2014 / 3 Tevet, 5775
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Passing The Baton


The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. This week’s d’var Torah is based on a 1957 Shiur on Masechet Brachos. It is dedicated in memory of the kedoshim, Naftali Frankel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar, Hy”d.

Parshas Pinchas sets the stage for the leadership succession that followed the death of Moshe. It begins with a recap of how Pinchas unilaterally stood up and challenged powerful people from bnei Yisrael as well as Midyan to defend the honor of Hashem against those who publicly desecrated the name of Hashem and committed the cardinal sins of immoral sexual relationships and idolatry. Pinchas was rewarded with an eternal covenant of peace and the High Priesthood was focused among his descendants.

Later in the parsha, Hashem informs Moshe of his impending demise. Moshe asks (27:16) that Hashem select a leader that will lead the people upon exit and entry and will be able to move them out and usher them in as required. Hashem informs Moshe that his closest disciple, Joshua, will inherit his leadership role and that he, Moshe, should place his hand on him. Hashem instructed Moshe that Joshua should stand in front of Elazar, the high priest, and inquire from the Urim V’Tumim. Why was Moshe so verbose when describing the qualities required by the next leader? Why was it necessary that the appointment take place publicly before the entire community? What is the connection between the very different appointments of Pinchas and Joshua and the death of Moshe?

The Gemara (Berachos 32b) states that four entities require chizuk, constant reinforcement and attention. The first of these is Torah. The Gemara derives this from the Book of Joshua, where Hashem tells Joshua who assumed the leadership role after the death of Moshe,“chazak v’ematz me’od,’ strengthen yourself and be resolute. Why was the charge duplicated with two commands, chazak and ematz?

Moshe served dual major roles for bnei Yisrael. He was their teacher and their leader. As teacher he was charged with teaching the people the Written as well as the Oral Law. He was also the leader who led them through the desert, ensuring that their lives would be as normal as possible and that they had food and water. He was a gomel chesed par excellence with, among others, the example he set in caring for the remains of Joseph and his willingness time and again to sacrifice himself on behalf of the people. His dual role was carefully crafted to ensure that the mesorah, in its entirety, would be transmitted to future generations. Moshe’s mesorah included a blueprint for everyday life as well as the guide for a spiritual life worthy of the chosen people. One without the other would translate into a doomed, failed enterprise. Moshe’s mission required that he set the tone so that upon entry to the Promised Land the people should not devote their entire attention to the settling of the land. He taught them that they must allocate time and space in their lives for the study of and adherence to Torah.

In return for his devotion to them, the people viewed Moshe as their irreplaceable leader. They could not imagine life without him. In times of stress he was the first person they would turn to. Chazal say that 3,000 laws were forgotten during the mourning period for Moshe. The shock of losing him paralyzed the people. Who could possibly take his place?

Moshe had several close disciples, including Pinchas, Elazar, and Joshua. In fact Joshua was not the greatest of Moshe’s students. The 3,000 laws forgotten during the mourning period for Moshe were not restored by Joshua, but by Asniel ben Knaz. While Pinchas was greater intellectually, Chazal say that Joshua distinguished himself in his attitude and his devotion to his teacher and his Torah. He arranged the chairs before the lecture and was always concerned with Moshe’s needs. The teacher-student relationship is built to a greater degree on the devotion of a student to his teacher than on his intellectual capacity. It was Joshua who took offense to what he perceived as a slight against Moshe by Eldad and Meidad, who prophesied that Moshe will pass away and Joshua will distribute the land to bnei Yisrael. He defended his teacher’s honor, asking him to silence them. No reaction from any of his other disciples was recorded in this incident. None of them, including Pinchas, rose to defend Moshe.

In contrast, Pinchas was given to independent action. He did not consult with Moshe, as perhaps Joshua would have, when he instinctively rose up to punish Zimri and Kazbi, without paying heed to their status or the personal risk to himself. Perhaps his response to the story of Eldad and Meidad would have been to defend Moshe’s honor unilaterally, without consulting Moshe. In summary, Pinchas possessed great leadership qualities, but they were not the ones that were required at that time. The people needed continuity, they needed someone who could channel Moshe and provide the stability they required to enter and conquer the land. Even though Pinchas would eventually assume a key role in the transmission of the mesorah, his time had not yet come.

The elders of the generation said that Moshe’s face radiated like the sun while Joshua’s face reflected like the moon. Oftentimes a leader or a particular institution becomes so identified with a cause that their adherents can’t imagine how the cause can possibly survive without him or it. With the loss of their leader, they become engulfed in doubt and despair. For example, at the time of the destruction of the Temple many Pharisitic Jews thought that the rapid demise of the Jewish nation was an inevitable and foregone conclusion. They could not imagine how they would continue without the central institution, the Temple, in their life.

At the funeral for Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Akiva lamented that he has much currency to exchange but no currency expert to consult. With the passing of his teacher, he felt helpless and forlorn. Joshua, faced with the loss of his teacher Moshe, was bewildered as well. The Rav noted that after the passing of his grandfather, Reb Chaim, his father, Reb Moshe found it difficult to function and study. He noted a similar experience with the passing of his father. Bnei Yisrael were overcome with trepidation and confusion. How can we continue without the leader and teacher we have relied on for so long? There are many examples of this attitude today as well, where an organization or a group has a charismatic and great leader who they deem to be irreplaceable and become paralyzed with his passing, unable to move on.

Joshua was also concerned. This was the greatest moment of his life. He needed reinforcement and encouragement for the role he was about to assume. How could he possibly replace Moshe? History is witness to many unfortunate examples where a successor did not measure up to his predecessor, resulting in a calamity for both leader and people.

Hashem told Joshua “My servant Moshe has died and you will take the people into the land.” Why repeat the obvious, that Moshe died? Hashem was commanding Joshua that he must be strong and resolute in assuming the dual role of Moshe. Hashem said he was not asking Joshua to replace every aspect of Moshe. That would be impossible. Hashem spoke uniquely with Moshe, face to face. Moshe could count on a direct line of communication to Hashem whenever he felt the need. Joshua, you need not replicate those aspects of Moshe. However, you must be the strong leader that leads them into battle. You must also be their caring leader who teaches them Torah and kindness, acts as their judge, and be the one they turn to in difficult times and when they need reassurance. Both attributes are required of the Jewish leader. That is why the dual charge of chazak v’ematz is repeated twice.

When bnei Yisrael entered the land, they became engrossed in settling and cultivating it. Each person was inclined to tend to his fig tree and vineyard. In that case, what will become of Torah? Hashem charged Joshua with a seemingly inherently contradictory mission: to ensure that both dimensions, conquest of the land and adherence to Torah, must be stressed. However, from Hashem’s perspective there was no contradiction. The Rav noted that a similar attitude was displayed by the early pioneers in Eretz Yisrael. They were focused on settling and cultivating the land and abandoned Torah. An enterprise that sacrifices one for the other cannot succeed. The same mission to conquer and teach occurred in the time of Ezra as well.

Ramban (27:19) says that Joshua had to replace Moshe’s roles of military leader, and judge and teacher. The dual charge of chazak v’ematz refers to the dual roles that Joshua had to assume. Joshua had to demonstrate that he was capable of being a military leader who would lead the people in a successful conquest of the land, while also being a leader that could teach them Torah and set an example of kindness. He acquired these traits from his teacher.

Chazal say that the people worshipped Hashem all the days that Joshua was their leader, something the great Moshe could not claim. Hashem showed Joshua that he could be as successful as Moshe, and in some areas even greater. Because he represented Moshe, there was no gap between them in the chain of leadership. Moshe asked that the leader be chosen before he died so he can validate him in the eyes of the community. Moshe intended that they come to view Joshua as Moshe’s legitimate successor and that he was worthy of their obedience and loyalty.

Rambam writes in his introduction to Mishneh Torah that Elazar, Pinchas and Joshua received their Torah from Moshe, however he transferred and commanded the Oral Law to Joshua alone, who was his student. This mesorah chain, encompassing the Written and Oral Law, passed from Moshe to Joshua and from Joshua to the Elders, etc. Rambam later enumerates the mesorah chain in reverse, where he notes that Pinchas received the mesorah from Joshua, who received it from Moshe who received it from Hashem. Even though Pinchas was a disciple of Moshe, the mesorah was initially entrusted to Joshua alone after the death of Moshe. Pinchas had to wait his turn, as his skill set was not the one that was needed at that time. Moshe realized that and made sure to afford his closest disciple and worthy successor every opportunity to succeed.

About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at ravtorah1@gmail.com.

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