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Question: As we now read Sefer Devarim, the Torah tells us that Moses was instructed by Hashem to appoint a successor. Moses wanted his sons to succeed him but Hashem tells him to appoint Yehoshua as the next leader. Why was this request of the greatest and most righteous of men denied? Also, were Yehoshua and Caleb the only named leaders or personalities to enter the land of Canaan?

M. Gorin
Via email



Synopsis: Last week we cited Rambam (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:1) who states, “The Jewish people were adorned with the three crowns, Torah; priesthood and royalty. Aaron and his progeny merited priesthood; David and his progeny merited royalty. The crown of Torah is available to all Israel. We noted Moses’ promise to Jethro that his firstborn son adopt Jethro’s idolatry and thus Moses was punished in that his sons would not inherit his leadership. Instead, Joshua, his student, earned the leadership. Yet Moses saw that if the daughters of Tzelophechad could inherit, possibly his sons could as well. Yet the reply remained the same. There is a view that his two sons died during his lifetime; thus, the question is moot. We noted that Caleb and Joshua were the only ones of that generation to enter the land, but we did note a few exceptions: Elazar the high priest, his son Pinchas (Elijah, Bava Metzia 114b, Rashi ad loc.) who served as high priest in the land of Israel. We noted our Sages’ criticism of both Pinchas and Yiftach, the leader at the time, in the matter of Yiftach’s daughter.

Answer: The following are responses to your first question that were received from readers of this column. Mr. Asher Weingarten of Brooklyn offers additional information on the subject of Moses’ offspring:

“The Targum of Rav Joseph (by the Amora Joseph ben Hiyya) identifies Shevuel (I Chronicles 23:16, ‘Bnei Gershom, Shevuel Harosh’) as Jonathan, the idolater priest (Judges 18:30, ‘And Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Menashe [read: Moshe], he and his sons…’). As related in Tractate Bava Batra (110a), David put him in charge of the treasuries. He was called Shevuel because he repented and returned (shav) to G-d.

“Moses’ offspring are mentioned again as Temple treasurers (I Chronicles 26:24). Shevuel is cited as chief treasurer with his brother’s (Eliezer’s) great-grandchild, Shlomot (Shlomit), also a head treasurer.

“The promise Moses made to his father-in-law, Jethro, is difficult to understand and the commentators (the Ba’al HaTurim, and the Zayit Ra’anan on Yalkut Shimoni) discuss Moses’ behavior. It is difficult to imagine that a grandson of Moses would be an idol worshiper.”

My uncle, Rabbi Sholom Klass, seems to resolve it as follows: It is interesting to note Ralbag’s commentary to Judges 18:30. Yehonatan, according to Ralbag (citing the Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot ch. 9) misinterpreted the teaching of his father’s house: Hire yourself out to idol worship rather than to be dependent on others. The true meaning of avoda zara (strange gods) in this context is “work strange to him,” work that he is unused to do. Thus Moshe probably agreed that his son would do “work strange to him.”

Returning to Rambam’s ruling that we cited at the outset, we seem to be faced with a contradiction in the very verse he quotes, “Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha kehillat Yaakov – The Torah that Moses commanded us is the inheritance of the Congregation of Israel.” Simply put, the verse would be stating that every Jew is automatically imbued with Torah. [This seems to mean every Jew is entitled to inherit Torah leadership.]

Tiferet Yisrael (to Avot 2:12) reconciles this inconsistency by explaining that the inheritance is to the Congregation of Israel as a whole, as stated (Deuteronomy 31:21), “… Ki lo [t]ishachach mipi zar’o … – For it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of [Israel’s] offspring,” meaning that the observance of the Torah’s commands shall not change in any time, place, or generation. However, it is not an inheritance for the individual, even if that individual’s father or grandfather is a scholar. To the contrary, this may cause one not to make efforts to become a scholar. We must explain this statement of Tiferet Yisrael to mean that while a father would be only too willing for his son to succeed him in Torah scholarship, the son, seeing the scholar that his father is, might not fully appreciate the effort that went into attaining that level of Torah knowledge and would be inclined to rely on the “family inheritance.”

Moses’ leadership, as the central [pre-eminent leader and Torah] authority, continued with his pupil, Joshua, as the verse states (Exodus 33:11), “… u’mesharto Yehoshua bin Nun na’ar lo yamish mitoch ha’ohel – … but his servant [student] Joshua son of Nun, a lad, would not depart from within the Tent.”

One’s student, indeed, is like one’s own child (Va’etchanan 6:7, Sifrei).

To be continued…

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.