The Torah reading “Pinchas” deals with different types of leadership seen through Moses, Pinchas, Joshua, Zelophehad’s daughters and Elijah.
In this parsha Moshe was once again told that he would die before reaching the Promised Land. Knowing this Moshe asked Gd to appoint someone to take over his role as leader. Beautifully he said, “…so that Gd’s community will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (Numbers 27:17). Gd told Moshe to appoint Joshua, son of Nun , to take over to take over the leadership.
This choice may have been unexpected. The Torah reading begins by focusing on Pinchas, a Levi and Aaron’s grandson. He was a passionate and zealous man who killed two idolators in front of the אוהל מועד, the holy Tent of Meeting. It was a shocking act but it averted Gd’s wrath. Gd rewarded Pinchas by giving him hereditary priesthood and also gave him “My covenant of peace”. Pinchas and his descendants were given the honour because of his zealousness for Gd. Why was Joshua chosen rather than this hero and man of action?
Joshua appears a number of times through the Torah. The first time he appears he was appointed to lead a group of refugees from Egypt in war against Amalek. He must have had leadership qualities and experience to have been chosen for the task of leading untrained men into battle. Later, when Moshe went up Mount Sinai, Joshua accompanied him and waited 40 days and 40 nights until his leader descended. In addition, when Moshe appointed 12 leaders to spy out the land of Canaan Joshua and Caleb were the two men who were enthusiastic about the the land and confident in b’nei Yisrael’s ability to conquer their enemies and settle there.
These qualities- as well as Joshua’s experience of traversing difficult land and situations, and witnessing Moshe’s leadership qualities made him an excellent choice as leader.
The narrative includes a story which shows insight to two other leadership qualities. As the division of land is being discussed five sisters, Mahla, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah from the tribe of Menashe came forward and asked for the portion of their father’s land. They told Moshe their father Zelophehad had died. There was no son to take the land. They asked for their father’s portion in order to preserve their father’s legacy and name.
Their confidence in coming forward and questioning what they felt was an unfair law shows insight and leadership. Moshe’s reaction as judge and arbitor also shows wisdom in leadership. He was unsure how to answer and turned to Gd. Gd answered that the women were correct and should receive their father’s portion.
The haftarah also addresses a change in leadership. Elijah appoints Elisha to take over from him
We see different types of abilities, strengths, and skills in the players who take part in this week’s parsha and haftarah. It helps us to recognize how one set of abilities may be appropriate for a certain task or role. That same skill will create a leader in one situation but not another. We also see that a person who acts on his or her own is not necessarily fit for the larger role. The leaders should act in concert and with the support of others.
Shabbat Shalom, Laya
Remember: Come to the exhibit of my haftarah series and other art works at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. It continues until October 24, 2019. The exhibit is open during synagogue hours, 7 days a week . For more information e-mail me at email@example.com
The prophet Jeremiah was born in the small town of Anatot, outside of Jerusalem the same year King Josiah began to reign over the Southern Kingdom of Judea. While Josiah was in power a scroll was found in the Temple containing laws that the Jews had forgotten. King Josiah began to introduce and enforce religious reforms based on the scroll. Jeremiah was about thirteen years old when this happened, and was appointed by God to be a prophet.
Jeremiah was not accepted or liked by his fellow Jews. He witnessed the rise and fall of other Jewish rulers and the sacking of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. He ended his life in exile in Egypt. Jeremiah’s words and trials are fitting for the Weeks of Rebuke before Tisha B’Av.
On the three Shabbatot preceding Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning for the Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we read “Haftarot of Rebuke”. This is the first “Reading of Rebuke”, taken from Jeremiah ch 1-2:3. Jeremiah, like Moses, was a reluctant prophet. He told God that he was young and couldn’t speak. God tried to give Jeremiah confidence, saying, “Be not afraid of them for I am with you to deliver you.” (1:8) That did not reassure Jeremiah, so God touched Jeremiah’s mouth saying He had put words into Jeremiah’s mouth. Moses, too, was afraid to speak and tried to reject God’s request. ( spoiler alert- it didn’t work.)
Both men had been chosen by God for a certain roles and had been chosen before they were aware. In this week’s haftarah God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you came out of the womb I sanctified you; I have appointed you a prophet unto the nations.” (1: 5)
Jeremiah and Moses were leaders who taught morality- not politics and not war. They didn’t speak of who should be the next leader. Instead they communicated God’s wishes and preached ethical behaviour. Throughout our teachings we are told that it is not might that will win wars against our enemies. We are taught that it is faith in God and adherence to ethical and moral behaviour that will allow us to triumph over our adversaries.
Just as Jeremiah and Moses were chosen before they were born and given a role before they were born the same is true for each of us. We each have been blessed with specific talents, strengths, insights and abilities. It is up to each of us to recognize what is within ourselves and use those abilities to make the world a better place. We need to look at what we can do and use our tools to help make our society healthy, safe and accepting. It seems that respect and ethical behaviour are seen as weaknesses. Guns, bombs and threats are preferred methods of negotiation.The fights and wars we see around us today will never allow the people of the world to live in peace and security.
Let’s endeavour to make words, art, music, poetry and scientific improvement our preferred currency over hatred and insults.
Have a good Shabbat and let’s make the world happier!
The drawing for this haftarah was inspired by Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus. I have shown a despondent Jeremiah looking out of his barren room at the sacking of the city. It looks like any modern city but represents Jerusalem. In the corner of the room are an almond branch and a steaming cauldron representing the enemy coming from the north. This illustration and others will be featured in my forthcoming book.
Elijah, or Eliahu (the Hebrew pronunciation) is probably the best known prophet of the Jewish people. He was a colourful personality, full of fire and action. As a matter of fact when he dies he leaves the earth in a fiery chariot that carries him to heaven. Even those who know little about the prophets remember Eliahu as the angel who visits each seder table at Pesach and has a sip of wine.
Eliahu lived during the reign of the evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Jezebel was a Pheonician princess who mandated the worship of Baal, forbade the worship of the Jewish God, and ordered the murder of all the Israelite prophets. Eliahu confronted the foreign and false prophets of Baal. We read that incident in the haftarah of parashat Balak.
Eliahu is a strong, larger than life character. He is supposed to be preaching to b’nei Yisrael but he knows that his life is at risk- Jezebel can’t wait to have him done away with. In this haftarah we read how Eliahu has gone into hiding, is supplied food by an angel, and God’s communication with him.
God’s communication with Eliahu is profound. While the prophet is fearfully hiding from Jezebel in the cave God asks him “Why are you here, Eliahu?” Eliahu’s responds that he has acted with zeal on God’s behalf and is now hiding to save his own life. He is told to stand in the mouth of the cave. First there is a great and powerful wind splitting mountains and shattering rocks- but the Lord wasn’t in the wind. Then there was and earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake either. These were followed by a fire- the Lord was not in the fire. Finally there was a soft murmuring sound. When Eliahu heard the soft high sound he wrapped his face in his cloak and stood in the entrance of the cave.
The description of these powerful acts of nature followed by the soft murmur evoked a strong image in my mind. I thought of HaShem’s power over all the earth. I thought of Moshe having his meeting with God in the cleft of a mountain in Sefer Shemot (Exodus 33: 22-23). And I thought of the Kohanim wrapped in their tallises blessing their congregations, and parents covering themselves with their tallis as they pray to God for their families and their nation. The idea of communing with the Almighty who is the source of the power of nature as well as the fragility of life as represented by the small soft murmur resonates especially today.
We are like the small figure of Eliahu who is strong yet frightened. His brothers and sisters have been attacked but God tells him he has to continue to fight the evil that surrounds b’nei Yisrael. When God asks Eliahu again, “Why are you here?” God of course knows that Eliahu is frightened for his life and troubled about the future. HaShem is connecting and reminding that He is the Creator and the Comforter- the earthquake and the small, still voice.
May we see peace in Israel soon. May the fighting stop and the senseless death and destruction cease. As God reminded Eliahu may we also remember that we don’t understand the whole story but we must not lose our faith.