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A Legacy of Leadership

  • A Legacy of Leadership

    Pinchas, Numbers 25:10−30:1
D'var Torah By: 

In Numbers 27:12-14 of this week's portion, Parashat Pinchas, Moses climbs the heights of Abarim and experiences the greatest disappointment of his life. For almost his entire adult life, Moses has led the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness. But now he learns that he will not participate in the ultimate implementation of all the plans he has labored so hard to set into motion. God tells Moses that once he has viewed the Promised Land, he will be gathered to his kin, like Aaron, his brother.

This is reality: Like Moses, we will not enjoy all the fruits of our labors. We dedicate ourselves to lofty goals that few, if any, ever fully realize. How should we respond when we are denied one or more of the prizes we have worked so hard to obtain? Should we fight the verdict? Deny its finality? Rail against the messenger who bears the news? Lash out at those around us? Withdraw into ourselves? Pretend that nothing has changed or happened?

In describing Moses' response, our text provides us with a revealing picture of this unique leader. In Numbers 27:16-17, Moses replies to God's decree. He is shaken-maybe even angry. He knows that his relationship with God will never be the same. Until now, Moses often spoke intimately with God, but here he addresses God in the third person: "Let Adonai, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community ... so that the community of Adonai may not be like sheep that have no shepherd." The days of their creative partnership have come to an end.

Questions arise: How do we speak to those who convey difficult news to us? How do we redefine our relationships with those who know the truth about us? Can those relationships ever be the same again? Can we ever again feel free and easy in our conversations with those people? Or do we choose to distance ourselves from those to whom we were once close?

The true measure of Moses' greatness lies in how he moves on from this point. Because he loves the people Israel and knows just how dependent on him they have become, his first reaction is to plan for his own succession. He fears that they may become like "sheep that have no shepherd" (Numbers 27:17), lost and wandering without direction. He begs God to appoint a new leader "who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in." (Numbers 27:17) What commendable characteristics of leadership does Moses describe to God, the Chair of the Search Committee! The ideal leader as personified by Moses leads by example, plans for the community, and participates in the implementation of those plans.

When our terms of office expire, what kind of people do we want to succeed us? What characteristics do we hope that they will possess? Have we consciously worked to identify qualified successors?

In Numbers 27:18-20, God responds to Moses' heartfelt request in the following manner: "Single out Joshua son of Nun, an inspired man.... Invest him with some of your authority so that the whole Israelite community may obey." God wants Moses to show the people that Joshua is also Moses' choice to lead the community. The orderly and enthusiastic passing on of authority is a great gift to Joshua, endowing him with credibility in the eyes of the people, who probably dread the death of Moses even more than Moses himself does.

May we learn from Moses to surmount our disappointments and hurts and bestow upon our successors every benefit that we can. We know how difficult such endeavors can be. But if we truly love our people and if our legacy is to endure, we must make every effort to ensure that those who come after us succeed.

Do You Like It? It'll be Yours Someday
Davar Acher By: 
Wally Schachet-Briskin

My parents have been doing some strange things recently. Before making a purchase of a costly item, they'll ask my wife's and my opinion, not because we have any expertise in the matter but because, they tell us, "It'll be yours someday." On the one hand, what a morbid thought! On the other hand, it's reassuring both to them and to me that I will be carrying on the family name, reputation, and property.

In this week's parashah, Pinchas, five sisters, who are descendants of Joseph, come before Moses to assert their rights to the land that their dead father would have inherited. Moses consults God, who responds by issuing an eternal decree: A man's daughters will inherit property if he has no sons. (Numbers 27:1-11)

As developed by later Jewish law, the order of inheritance became first to the deceased's sons' families and then-if there were no sons-to the deceased's daughters' families. If the deceased had no children, all property went to his or her father, then to his or her brother's family, then the sister's family, then the paternal side's patriarchs, and last, the extended family. The rabbis added a deceased woman's husband to this list, but a wife did not inherit from her husband. The estate was also obliged to support any unmarried daughters.

Since the time when these laws were codified in the first few centuries of the Common Era, some things have changed, while others have stayed the same.

The State of California Probate Code (240) orders inheritance in the following way if no will can be found: If the deceased was married at the time of death, everything goes to the spouse. If there is no spouse, the inheritance goes first to all the deceased's children's families, then to the deceased's parents, siblings' families, grandparents' families, and other kin. If no relative can be found, the property goes to the state. This law varies slightly from state to state.

These rules were adapted from British law, which was based on church law, which was based on laws found in the Bible-the Hebrew Bible! At some point in history, the law of inheritance was changed to reflect the equal status of women.

Midrash tells us: "God's love is not like the love of a mortal father. The latter prefers his sons to his daughters, but the One who created the world extends love to all of God's children." While the biblical law of inheritance allows property to be passed on to daughters only when there are no sons, today's civil laws regard all children equally in this matter. The writers of this midrash remind us that God's abundant love is granted to daughters as well as to sons.

With every action of ours that shows favor and love, we instill in our children the values we hold. It's reassuring to think that our name and, we hope, our values will be carried on to the next generation. I look at my eighteen-month-old daughter and smile, thinking that when she is older, my wife and I might ask her the same question my parents ask me: "Do you like it? It'll be yours someday."

Questions for Further Discussion:

  1. Why does the midrash say that a father "prefers his sons to his daughters"? Is that statement true for you? Are there situations in which you think that daughters ought to be treated differently from sons, girls from boys, and women from men?
  2. What morals and values do you want to pass on to the next generation? Create an "ethical will."
  3. Have you made out a "last will and testament"? Inexpensive "do-it-yourself" kits are available from stores that sell forms, such as office supply stores, or you can copy such documents from books found in your public library.
7/03/1999
Reference Materials: 

Pinchas, Numbers 25:10–30:1
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 1,194–1,215; Revised Edition, pp. 1,072–1,094;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 545–568