Shabbat-Table Talks: Pinehas

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>

[This week's Table Talks is dedicated in honor of Rabbi Ralph Tawil.]

Value: Qualities of Leadership, according to the Torah. True leadership is essential for strong societies. Our children will encounter situations that require them to take initiative, to remain calm and make clear-headed decisions--in short, to lead. When we teach our children qualities of leadership, we are preparing them for future roles that can affect the course of their lives and the lives of those around them.

Context: In this week’s perasha, God commands Moshe to ascend a mountain to see the land, as he will not be crossing into it. The Torah does not immediately report that Moshe fulfilled God’s commandment. Instead, Moshe insists (!) that God appoint a leader for the people. By examining Moshe’s words and some of the rabbinic comments to this section, we can gain insight into the qualities of leadership, according to the Torah.

Text: Bemidbar 27:15-23

Moshe spoke to the Lord, saying: Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, designate a man over the community who will go out before them, who will come back before them, who will lead them out, who will bring them back; so that the community of the Lord will not be like a flock that has no shepherd.

The Lord spoke to Moshe: Take yourself Yehoshua son of Nun, a man in whom the spirit is, and lean your hand upon him. You are to have him stand before El’azar the priest and before the entire community, and you are to commission him before their eyes. You are to put of your majesty upon him, in order that they may hearken, the entire community of the Children of Israel. Before El’azar the priest he is to stand, he will seek judgment for him of the Urim, before the presence of the Lord, by his order he will go out and by his order he will come back, he and all the children of Israel with him, and the entire community.

Moshe did as the Lord had commanded him; he took Yehoshua and had him stand before El’azar the priest, and before the entire community. He leaned his hands upon him and commissioned him as the Lord had spoken by the hand of Moshe.

Rabbinic comments:

1) The Sifre observed Moshe’s leadership quality of selflessness. According to the Sifre, this section teaches us the praise due the righteous leader. Even when he is about to die, he puts aside his own needs and attends to the needs of the public. Even though God told him to ascend the mountain to see the Promised Land before dying, Moshe was concerned with another matter. Moshe requested that God appoint a successor. Leadership Quality: Give of yourself selflessly to your people.

2) The Tanhhuma explained the special name of God used in this section, "Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh" in the following way:

Moshe requested from the Holy One, blessed be He, when he was about to die, and said: Master of the Universe, you are well aware of each of your children’s mentalities, and that no two are the same. When I leave them, I request that if you want to choose a leader for them, choose a person who will be able to tolerate each person according to his mentality.

Leadership quality: Be aware of the different powers, abilities and mentalities of those around you.

3) Moshe’s request seems to contain a redundancy,

"who will go out before them, who will come back before them, who will lead them out, who will bring them back."

If he is going out before them and coming back before them isn’t he leading them out and bringing them back? The Sifre deduces several leadership qualities from this seeming "redundancy." The leader of Israel does not just send his soldiers to battle--he leads the charge. The leader of Israel brings out a certain number of people to battle and returns with the same number. Leadership qualities: Lead by example. Be concerned for the safety of those around you.

4) The Torah describes Yehoshua as: "a man in whom the spirit is." The Sifre comments: "Such that he can go against the spirit of any man." The leader has to be a person of conviction ready and able to defend his position forcefully against its detractors.

5) Hashem clearly specifies that the military/political leader must "stand before" the religious/spiritual leader. The Sifre comments: "You are to have him stand before El’azar the priest"—"Yehoshua needed El’azar and El’azar needed Yehoshua." Ideally, the military/political leader and the religious/spiritual leader cooperate for the good of the people. This cooperation between the different types of leadership is essential for a successful outcome.

6) The Torah reports, "Moshe did as the Lord had commanded him." The Sifre comments: "Moshe went and did it joyously. He was not jealous for his sons or his nephews." The real leader appoints people based on their merit to lead and not based on their relationship to the leader.


Which modern Jewish leaders have displayed some of these qualities or others?

Why is it important to be able to understand each person’s way of thinking in order to lead effectively?

Give some examples of how you "lead by example." Why is that a leadership quality?

How can we encourage our leaders to cooperate? (By encouraging them to recognize the unique talents and abilities of each leader.)


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