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Determining Which Traits Are Important for Leadership

As we come towards the end of the Book of Numbers, Moses is constantly reminded that he will not be the one to lead his people into the Promised Land – along with the vast majority of the Israelites who left Egypt. In Parashat Pinchas, we find the second census of the people by the Jordan River before their crossing; those named in the first, at the beginning of the book, have almost all died in the wilderness. Joshua, one of two sole survivors, will be the one who leads them forward.

D'var Torah By: 
Lessons in Solidarity and Taking a Stand
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein

I offer this word of Torah in honor and memory of my teacher, Rabbi Dr. Aaron David Panken.... In the Talmud we read, “Know before whom you stand.” Standing before God and standing up as a leader call us to take risks. Parashat Pinchas provides us with the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, who also “stand” (ta-amodna) up....

Learning Wisdom from a Beast of Burden

There is no doubt that the donkey is the star of Parashat Balak. In an episode that itself is unnecessary to the plot of the Book of Numbers, she is dispensable. And yet she leaps out of the text (as much as a donkey can leap) as one of the most unforgettable characters of the book.

D'var Torah By: 
Facing and Confronting Private Failings in Public Figures
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

Rabbi Grushcow’s insightful, multilayered analysis of this passage in Parashat Balak imparts newfound urgency to age-old questions. Like the women of the #MeToo movement, her writing has called out the behavior of a powerful and well-known man for what it is: abusive. So, too, she takes the victim of the abuse seriously, as someone possessing thought and feeling, instead of a prop of no real importance or value.

Their Father’s Sin Is Not Their Own

In Parashat Pinchas, we learn the intriguing fact that “the sons of Korach did not die.” This conflicts with an account about Korach in an earlier chapter, which states that the ground opened up and swallowed him, his household and his followers. What does this discrepancy mean?

D'var Torah By: 
Extending Kindness to the Thousandth Generation
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jared H. Saks

The fact we are told in Parashat Pinchas that Korach’s family does not die tells us that we always have the opportunity to perform t’shuvah as described in Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 17b.

Distracted by Blessing

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, the king of Moab, Balak, is afraid that the Israelites’ encampment will ravish his land. He seeks to have a diviner named Balaam curse the Israelites. But God turns the curses to blessings.

D'var Torah By: 
Laughter Is the Best Medicine
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Mara Young

This week's portion, Balak, provides an example of how we can subvert anger with humor. The prophet Balaam endeavors to drive the donkey and gets incensed when she does not budge. We the readers see the humor of the situation in which a donkey can see an angel of God who blocks her way while the "prophet" cannot.

Commissioning a New Leader on Inauguration Day

At this point in the Book of Numbers, we find Moses' term of service moving toward a conclusion and God begins planning for his succession. God tells Moses, "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" (Numbers 27:18-20).

Hearing these instructions could not have been anything but painful for Moses. The leader of the Israelites for so long, how could he imagine anyone else in his place? And yet, they were perhaps comforting too. There would be no power vacuum. God would not let the progress of the last forty years fade away. The political transition would be a smooth one, free of upheaval and discord.

D'var Torah By: 
Transitioning to New Leadership with Full and Honest Disclosure
Davar Acher By: 
Michael E. Harvey

There is, indeed, great comfort in Nachmanides' interpretation of Moses' commissioning of Joshua. Certainly, as Rabbi Skloot explains, when we "see with our own eyes, that our leaders respect the basic institutions of government," tomorrow doesn't seem so scary. But in times like ours, times Rabbi Skloot acknowledges are, at the very least, "cynical," there may in fact be greater comfort found in Rashi's interpretation of Parashat Pinchas.

Love Yourself When Your Neighbors Won’t

This week's Torah reading, Parashat Balak, helps us consider the effects of persecution on our psyches. In it, we encounter Balaam, a prophet for hire, whom the Moabite king Balak enlists to curse the Israelites. Balaam, however, is unable to fulfill his commission. Balaam recounts:

From Aram has Balak brought me,
Moab's king from the hills of the East:
Come, curse me Jacob, Come, tell Israel's doom!
How can I damn whom God has not damned,
How doom when the Eternal has not doomed?
As I see them from the mountain tops,
Gaze on them from the heights,
There is a people that dwells apart,
Not reckoned among the nations, . . . (Numbers 23:7-9)

Balaam, looking down at the Children of Israel's camp from the heights of the surrounding peaks, sums up the people's history up to that point and well into the future: "There is a people that dwells apart, / Not reckoned among the nations," he sings.

D'var Torah By: 
The Challenges of Being Both Modern and Jewish
Davar Acher By: 
Sarah Magida

"How can I be both modern and Jewish, simultaneously? This is the existential question." That's what Rabbi David Ellenson said to us on the very first day of his Modern Jewish Thought course at Hebrew Union College. This is also the question that Rabbi Skloot asks in his reading of Balak as well as the question that my students ask themselves on a regular basis.

Five Women Whose Names We Should All Remember

The story of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-11) has all of the earmarks of a Jane Austen novel: the disenfranchisement and injustices borne by women surrounding the question of inheritan

D'var Torah By: 
Biblical Change Agents
Davar Acher By: 
Jason Nevarez

I join Rabbi Kushner in celebrating these nashot chayil, "women of valor." They paved the way for future generations not only in gaining access to their inheritance, but also in bringing a

Whose Word Is It Anyway?

"Blessed is the One who spoke and the world came to be . . ." (P'sukei D'zimrah, morning liturgy). It is among the most central of Jewish values. The power of the word.

D'var Torah By: 
God’s Word
Davar Acher By: 
Mark Kaiserman

We don't have prophets anymore. Judaism tell us the final prophet was Malachi (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 11a).

Determining the Qualities of an Ideal Political Leader

This week's parashah, Pinchas, is all about succession and inheritance. Who will succeed Aaron in the priesthood? To whom will the land pass as the Israelites enter it?

D'var Torah By: 
The Wrong Shepherd
Davar Acher By: 
Ruth Gais

This is one of my least favorite parashiyot. I have always disliked Pinchas's zealotry and, perhaps even more, God's approval of and reward for such zealotry.

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