Pinchas for Tweens

Pinchas, Numbers 25:10−30:1

D'Var Torah By: Renee Frank Holtz

This parashah begins with God promising that Aaron's son Phinehas and his descendents will forever be priests. A census is taken of the descendants of each tribe and the population of the Israelites is numbered at greater than 600,000. God instructs them as to which land each tribe shall be apportioned. God tells Moses that he will not enter the Land but shall appoint Joshua to succeed him as leader over the Israelites. The remainder of the parashah deals with when the people are required to make sacrifices.

In the fourth aliyah, God instructs Moses to ascent and look into the land, and then you too shall be gathered to your kin, just as your brother Aaron was (27:13). (See last week's commentary on Parashat Chukat-Balak.) Moses expresses concern about who will lead the community, describing them as sheep that have no shepherd (27:17). God answers Moses, saying:

Single out Joshua son of Nun, an inspired individual, and lay your hand upon him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before the whole community, and commission him in their sight. Invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey. (27:18-20)

Last week we read about Aaron's death and how his authority was passed on to his son Eleazar. This week, we see a parallel passing of authority from Moses to Joshua.

Moses seems to accept his death and the fact that he will not enter the Promised Land. Many commentators note that between the lines of the Torah text, one can extrapolate that Moses must have railed at God, cried out in anguish and sobbed in sorrow. But the "black lines" of our text present a man accepting his fate with dignity.

We have read of the ups and downs of Moses' relationship with his people. He has advocated for the people, interceded on their behalf, bemoaned their behavior nearly giving up and instructed them in God's many commandments. What Moses feels in that moment is not explicitly described in the text. His first concern, as expressed to God, is to continue to care for the people, questioning who will lead them.

Without argument, Moses does what God commands. The commentators note the slight difference in verse twenty-three: He laid his hands upon him and commissioned him-as the Eternal had spoken through Moses (27:23). Whereas our verse in which God commands reads hand, this verse which describes Moses' actions employs hands. Rambam notes that this description conveys that Moses followed God's command wholeheartedly.

Note that while Aaron's son became the new High Priest, Moses' sons do not inherit his leadership. Succession of leadership is a new idea in the Torah. Moses was not a king and his sons did not succeed him as leaders of the people. Yet, Moses is directly involved in the chain of leadership. God commissioned Moses. Moses commissioned Joshua. Our parashah gives us a second model of leadership and authority: merit over lineage. This type of passing of authority is the model from which the rabbis of the Talmud derive their authority in the verse that begins tractate Avot: "At Sinai Moses received the Torah and handed it over to Joshua who handed it over to the elders who handed it over to the prophets who in turn handed it over to the men of the Great Assembly" (Pirkei Avot 1:1). While we no longer have a Temple and a sacrificial system, some branches of Judaism still preserve the inherited ranks of Cohen, Levi and Yisrael.

Even the Torah text seems to recognize that although Joshua takes over for Moses, he can never replace him; Invest him with some of your authority. The Talmud declared that "The face of Moses was like the sun and the face of Joshua was like the moon" (Bava Batra 75a). Rashi and Sifre state that Joshua was a reflection of Moses' greatness, but not his equal; thus, Moses could only give Joshua a portion of his authority. What qualified Joshua? According to these verses, he was an inspired individual. According to Rashi, Joshua never left the side of Moses and so he deserved to be rewarded. According to Me'am Lo'ez, God honored Moses by appointing such a worthy successor. Certainly if you have ever left a job, you know the difference between having a successor you know will do the job well or someone in whom you have little confidence.

Moses behaves in this parashah with the utmost in dignity. Our text portrays a man who lets go gracefully. When given a message from God that his last forty years will not end with a fulfillment of his efforts, Moses' concern for the people whom he led remains undiminished. He celebrates the ascension of Joshua with both hands and a whole heart, and when he removes his own hands, he can rest knowing that the people are in Joshua's capable hands.

Table Talk

When has it been hard for you to let go and let others take over? What helps you to remember that although someone might do things differently than you, they may also do it well? When is it important to let a new leader take over?

Put yourself in the place of Joshua. How would you have felt, taking over for Moses and at the same time losing your leader and your mentor?

This parashah contains the traditional readings for Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Much of its verses have to do with when in the calendar shall the people make sacrifices. Moses made a different type of sacrifice in the verses discussed above. How are these sacrifices similar and how are they different?

For Further Learning

According to Me'am Lo'ez, the two verses in which Moses requests a leader over the people (27:16-17) contain twenty-eight words in Hebrew. This is the equivalent of the number of years Joshua would lead the Israelites. What other numerical equivalents can you find in Torah?


Renee Frank Holtz, RJE earned her PhD in Curriculum and Teaching from Fordham University, an MSEd in Special Education from Johns Hopkins University and MA in Judaic Studies from Baltimore Hebrew University. She is the author of Hineni, the Family Companion, published by Behrman House, has written various articles, and is a contributing author to texts on Jewish education.

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

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