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After the episode with the daughters of Tzelofchod, who rightfully claim what belongs to them in the form of an inheritance from their father, Moshe and G-d have a conversation about what is going to happen when he dies.

First, G-d tells Moshe he is going to die. Then, Moshe asks G-d to appoint a new leader for the Children of Israel.

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“Let G-d, L-rd, Who knows each mind, appoint a leader over the people…” And G-d said to Moshe, “Take Joshua son of Nun…”

It is of interest, say the Sages, that Moshe’s request for a new leader immediately follows the inheritance of the daughters of Tzlofchad. Rashi summarizes thusly:

Once Moses heard that which G-d said, “Give the inheritance of Tzlofchad to his daughters,” he said to himself, “The time has come for me to claim my own needs, that my sons should inherit my great stature.”

G-d said back to him: “That is not what has entered my mind; fitting is Joshua to take his reward, since he did not depart from the tent.” 

This is what Solomon meant when he said (Proverbs 27:18): “The one who guards the fig tree will eat its fruit.”

The Midrashic source of Rashi’s comments is more explicit, telling us in detail just how great was Yehoshua’s work:

G-d said to Moses: “The one who watches the fig tree will eat of its fruit.” Your sons sat and did not study Torah. Joshua served you exceedingly and honored you exceedingly and he was the one that arose early and went to bed late in your house of study; he organized the benches, he spread out the tablecloths. Since he served you with all of his energy, he is suitable to serve Israel and not lose out on his reward (Rabba 14).

Then it adds, most tellingly,

As it says, “Take Joshua,” in order to fulfill that which is said, “The one who guards the fig tree will eat its fruit.”

This is a fascinating comment. It is not merely that Yehoshua will merit Moses because he has earned the right, but this must be so because there is a principle that must be upheld! Yehoshua must be appointed precisely in order to uphold the principle that only the one who watches the fig tree will eat its fruit. It would be wrong to violate this rule. Greatness in stature, especially in Torah, cannot simply be inherited. It can only be earned. This is the right way and the only way. It cannot be passed on to Moshe’s sons, who sat and did not study it.

This Midrash emphasizes that the study of Torah cannot be conferred by right or inheritance; it can only be earned through study and work and practice, as in the case of Yehoshua. As the Rambam writes:

The people of Israel were crowned with three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty. The crown of priesthood was acquired by Aaron… (T)he crown of sovereignty was acquired by David…but the crown of the Torah, behold it, there it lies ready within the grasp of all Israel, even as it is said: “Moses commanded us a Law, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob” (Deut. 33.4), Whoever wants it, let him come and take it (Laws of Torah Study, 3:1).

We risk banality in saying that Torah awaits each of us, but it bears repeating since we often forget it. We often equally forget that Torah study itself is not a pedestrian activity; the fact that we have been chosen for its study is special.

Rabbi Kolynmus Kalman Shapira, Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, murdered there during the uprising, wrote as much to his students around 100 years ago. Before he was a rebbe in a ghetto, Rabbi Shapira had a yeshiva in a town near Warsaw, Piascezna, and he was an insightful educator. He wrote a short book for the boys in his yeshiva; it makes quite worthwhile reading for all of us even now. It is called Chovat HaTalmidim, the Student’s Obligation.

Let us imagine we are his students as he writes to us (chap. 1):

The heavens and their hosts, and the earth and its fullness will rejoice about you and humble themselves before you. One will ask the other, “Who is this boy from whose mouth the pillars of fire are burning and whom the Master of the worlds – the Highest of the high – prides Himself and rejoices with him in front of the masses of His hosts and the myriad of His holy ones?”

…We know – we know too well – that if you had internalized that you are studying the Torah with a pure heart and mind; that you felt inside yourself the closeness of G-d, who is sitting and reciting [the Torah] across from you… like a father in front of his child, and that He, may He be blessed, answers and soothes you like a father does to his beloved son – you would have been completely and emotionally elated, and rejoiced with all of your being.

But since you do not feel all of this inside – and see yourself as just one of the boys – your soul does not burst and you don’t know to be happy in your fortune! Moreover, because of this, the will to study G-d’s Torah is sometimes lacking in you; and you do not give your ear to listen to His voice.

We do not know why Moshe’s sons did not pursue Torah study with the vigor of a Yehoshua. Could it be that they did not see how privileged they were to merit a chavruta with G-d? Could it be that they knew Torah study is suitable for the fortunate but that they did not know that “fortunate” included them? We will not answer these questions, but we should ask them of ourselves. We know – we know too well – that we underestimate ourselves and our position in this world. A positive reevaluation would be right and worthwhile.


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Yitzchak Sprung is the Rabbi of United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston (UOSH). Visit our facebook page or UOSH.org to learn about our amazing community. Find Rabbi Sprung’s podcast, the Parsha Pick-Me-Up, wherever podcasts are found.