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leadership and friendship

A caring leader is also a caring friend, as we learn in this week’s Torah portion.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Pinchas” (Numbers 25:10–30:1). Although the name refers to the primary hero of the reading, Pinchas, who was rewarded for killing two sinners and thereby putting an end to a plague that killed 24,000 Jews, let us discuss another figure in the same chapters: Joshua.

As one might recall, Moses was banned from leading the Jewish people into the Land of Israel. Instead, he died opposite Jericho and was buried on Mount Nebo. Moses was forbidden to enter the Promised Land as punishment for a sin he had committed. According to most interpretations, Moses’ sin was that he hit a rock in order to provide water to the thirsty nation instead of just speaking to the rock, as God had commanded.

However, there is another fascinating interpretation as to why Moses was disqualified from continuing on as leader of the Jewish people. According to some commentaries, his sin was that he lashed out at the Jewish people in an unprecedented manner, even calling them “rebels” when they complained about the lack of water.

This was a drastic change from Moses’ previous relationship with the Jewish people as their defender. Moses had always stood up for the Jewish people. When Moses first met Pharaoh, he advocated for the freedom of the Jewish people, demanding that he “let my people go.” When Pharaoh further punished the Jewish people as a result of Moses’ request, Moses turned to God and asked, “Why have You done evil to this nation!” When the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf and God wanted to destroy the Jewish people, who defended them? The list of Moses’ efforts on behalf of the Jewish people goes on and on.

Why Joshua?

However, as Moses’ patience seemed to be finally running out, a new leader had to be found.

But why Joshua? Why not someone with expertise in leadership? Or Moses’ own sons?

The answer is that Joshua had something special. He even had the ‘antidote’ to what became the downfall of Moses.

The Torah says that Joshua was “a man who has a spirit within him.” Our sages explain that Joshua knew how to be sensitive and recognize the unique needs of each person.  Moses had this trait for 80 years, but perhaps he became too old. Perhaps he became too spiritual to be sensitive to the needs of every individual. Who knows? But now Joshua was the one who had this attribute, making him the worthy new leader.

This concept is important not only for the leader of a nation to understand, but for everyone. Whether at home, in the workplace or on the social scene, we should try to cater to the needs of others before accommodating our own. That is a sign not only of a caring leader, but also of a caring friend.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.