businessmen disagreeing

It’s normal for people to think differently. Discussion and disagreement are fine. But there is a proper way to disagree and a proper way to discuss.

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

This week’s Torah portion is “Pinchas” (Numbers 25:10-30:1), and in it we read about the transition of power from Moses to Joshua.

Finally accepting his fate, namely, that he will not live to see the Promised Land, Moses asks God to appoint a successor. As he says, “May the Lord, God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a leader over the people.”

Rashi, the most famous Torah commentator, notes regarding this phrase: “Just as no two people look alike, no two people think alike. Everyone has a mind of his own.”

Why does Moses refer to the Almighty as “God of the spirits” when asking Him to appoint a successor? Such an expression is rarely used in Scripture, and possible only this one time in the Torah. What does this mysterious expression mean?

Another question: What is Rashi adding to the exchange? What is he trying to teach us?

The answers can be found in the Midrash (rabbinic literature), which tells us that as Moses’ life was nearing its end, his message to God could be interpreted as follows:

“You know that everyone has a mind of his own. Everyone has different needs and wants. The Jewish people are going to need a new leader, but as you know, they’re not an easy bunch. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone thinks he or she knows better.”

(This is what late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir likely meant when she told then-President Richard Nixon that her job was much more difficult than his, explaining that while he was the president of 150 million people, she was the prime minister of five million prime ministers!)

Moses reminded God that the Jewish people need a leader who can tolerate every single person and relate to each one. This is why he calls the Almighty “God of the Spirits” — as if to remind Him to choose carefully, to choose someone with the right “spirit” who can handle everyone else’s “spirit.” And so Joshua was chosen.

No Two People Think Alike

There is yet another lesson in this unusual exchange meant for us, the simple folk. We must remember that “no two people look alike, no two people think alike, and everyone has a mind of his own with different needs and wants.”

We must not get frustrated with other people who think differently than we do. It’s normal for people to think differently. Discussion and disagreement are fine. But there is a proper way to disagree and a proper way to discuss.

We now find ourselves during the period known as the “Three Weeks,” during which we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. Our sages teach us that one of the reasons for that catastrophe was that people hated each other for no good reason, but simply because they thought differently and even worshipped differently.

The search for a leader to succeed Moses reminds us that it’s OK to be different and it’s normal to disagree. But we must not let the situation get out of hand. It’s find to hold on to your opinions, but be sure to respect the opinions of others.

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