This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmother Channah Freidel Bas Sarah
-My great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aviva Malka Bas Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were recently taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
פִּינְחָס ~ Pinchas
“The Right Shepherd”
Although we’re all familiar with the Torah’s oft used introductory verse, “Vayidabeir Hashem El Moshe Leimor”-“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying,” one small section in the middle of Parshas Pinchas features the one occurrence where the speaker and addressee are conspicuously reversed. The Pasuk here says [B’Midbar 27:15], “Vayidabeir Moshe El Hashem Leimor”-“And Moshe spoke to Hashem saying.” Indeed, it is not the first time that Moshe engages in discussion with Hashem, but it is the first time Moshe addresses Hashem in this format, the format which we have seen Hashem addressing Moshe with several times throughout the Torah. What is going on this context that Moshe so uniquely addresses Hashem in this way?
So, after completing the final census of the B’nei Yisrael, Moshe Rabbeinu is shown the land of Israel from Har HaAvarim as he is reminded that he will not be entering the Promised Land with the people because of his misdeed at Mei Merivah [Ibid. 27:12-14]. It is at that point where Moshe turns around and addresses Hashem, telling Him to choose his successor to lead the B’nei Yisrael into the land [Ibid. 27:15-17]. G-d would ultimately select Moshe’s greatest disciple Yehoshua Bin Nun to succeed him after Moshe’s death. In any event, here is the subject matter, regarding which Moshe now “speaks” to Hashem “saying…”
Now, it’s not only strange that Moshe would speak with this expression to G-d, but it might also come off as a somewhat audacious and possibly demeaning to Hashem as, thus far, this format of speech was Hashem’s way of instructing Moshe to convey His commandments and teachings to the B’nei Yisrael. For Moshe to now give any kind of instructions in this way, and play the role of G-d, so to speak, addressing Hashem Himself like a commander to his subject, does not seem to be a befitting way to speak to the true Commander. Is Moshe now instructing or advising G-d? Is he giving G-d a directive?
Also, what exactly is it that Moshe is “instructing” Hashem to do? Again, we said that Moshe is making sure that Hashem is choosing a new leader to serve in his absence. That’s very responsible of Moshe, yes, but isn’t it kind of strange that Moshe needed to remind G-d about this obvious necessity of ordaining a new leader for the people? Was G-d not responsible enough or astute enough to think of that? Obviously, Hashem knows that a leader must be appointed, and surely, if Moshe didn’t make the point, Hashem would have likely addressed it. It’s not like Moshe needed to Daven or pray that G-d not leave His people without leader after they have made it this far. But this seems to be exactly what Moshe is doing. Just look at what Moshe says:
“Yifkod Hashem Elokei Ruchos L’Chal Basar Ish Al HaEidah; Asheir Yeitzei Lifneihem VaAsheir Yavo Lifneihem VaAsheir Yotzi’eim VaAsheir V’Lo Sihiyeh KaTzon Asheir Ein Lahem Ro’eh”-“Hashem, G-d of spirits for all flesh, shall appoint a man over the assembly; [one] who shall go out before them, and who shall come in before them, and who shall bring them out, and who shall bring them in, and the assembly of Hashem will not be like a sheep that has no shepherd.”
Indeed, Moshe is not just commanding or advising G-d, but he’s dramatically appealing, practically praying that G-d chooses a leader for the people. Moshe even employs some seemingly poetic, heart-stirring imagery of a flock of sheep without a shepherd—that would be the fate of this nation if Moshe dies and there is no one to replace them. But, again, the question is what really Moshe was getting at though. First of all, he is talking to G-d—he doesn’t need to provide moving analogies for to get the point across to G-d that the people need a leader. Is Moshe possibly doing that for his in poetic interests and satisfaction? Of course, we all speak to G-d and tell Him things He already knows, using speech that appeals to us, but it’s still strange that Moshe would get so theatrical over this arguably simple issue that he needs to start “convincing” G-d to “think of the poor children.” And second of all, what did Moshe think was going to happen otherwise? That there would be no viable leader for the nation, and they would all just be set up for failure?
In order to understand why Moshe is making this seemingly strange appeal before Hashem, we have to look even closer at the content of Moshe’s speech and look back at Moshe’s life in order to get a sense of where he’s coming from. Then, we can understand what exactly it is Moshe is trying to accomplish here which he might not have had he not spoken out here the way he did.
Another unique aspect of Moshe’s speech is the expressions which he uses to refer to G-d. He uses a nickname for G-d which he has previously used only one other time. He refers to Hashem as “Elokei HaRuchos L’Chal Basar”-“G-d of spirits for all flesh.”
The only other time Moshe referred to G-d this way was back in Parshas Korach, during Korach’s rebellion against him where Korach was in pursuit of the Kehunah (Priesthood) and overall leadership. Hashem told Moshe that He would wipe out the entire assembly [16:21] whereupon Moshe prayed to G-d, “Elokei HaRuchos L’Chal Basar,” that He not kill out the entire assembly for the intentional sin of really only one individual [16:22]. Hashem conceded to the reasonable prayer and gave the assembly the opportunity to separate itself from Korach [16:24].
Now, what is meant by this title “Elokei HaRuchos L’Chal Basar”? What does it mean to be a “G-d of all spirits for all flesh”? In both Parshas Korach and in our Sidrah, Rashi [citing Tanchuma] explains that this expression refers to G-d’s unique ability to know the individual mindset, intentions, and feelings, the true heart all human beings. Thus, with this unique ability, Moshe prays that Hashem focus on punishing the true intentional sinner. And similarly, here, Moshe prays that Hashem choose the most appropriate leader to succeed him. Is that all that ties these two scenes together?
If one thinks about it, these two stories actually have a lot more to do with each other, and both, in fact focus on the very same theme. That theme is the theme of leadership, and not just simple leadership, but G-d chosen leadership.
In both stories, Moshe wants G-d to specifically look into the minds and hearts of all human flesh and isolate one man. With the two stories side by side, Moshe asks Hashem to tell the world whom He thinks is the most appropriate to be a leader who is not. The manifest difference between the stories is that our Sidrah, Moshe wants Hashem to actively and positively select the leader. In Korach, Moshe wants to Hashem to single out, disqualify and judge the sinner, the one who is not befitting to be the leader, the man who is ambitiously pursuing the leadership.
But in fact, their connections go even deeper. In the story of Korach, very much like our story in Pinchas, Moshe actively summons G-d, so to speak, calling Him to action. On his own, Moshe challenges G-d to prove that he, Moshe, was chosen by G-d to lead, and accordingly, G-d responded with the famous miracle of making the earth opening up to swallow Korach. Here in Parshas Pinchas, as we’ve already discussed, Moshe, on his own, gets up and “instructs” G-d with the unique, G-dly style of speech, to make His Personal pick.
So, we have some basis of comparing the two stories, but what does any of this mean? How do any of these connections answer our questions? To get to those answers, we have to truly understand the challenge which Moshe was dealing with amidst Korach’s rebellion.
Looking back, the whole story of Korach’s rebellion is truly mindboggling. Korach gets up one day and rallies up a campaign against Moshe and his brother Aharon HaKohein, the leaders of the nation, and they decide that it is time to replace them. Korach argues that Moshe is nepotistically and tyrannically hoarding the power for himself and for his family. He implies that Moshe’s leadership status was not Divinely ordained. Now, in hindsight, we all know the story, that G-d chose Moshe to lead the nation back at the scene of the Burning Bush while the B’nei Yisrael slaves in Egypt [Shemos 3-4]. Of course Moshe’s leadership was divinely ordained. But, for some reason, he wasn’t immediately shot down by anyone! No one, not even Moshe, stood up initially to argue on his behalf. He told Korach not to attack Aharon, but that was about it. Yet, Korach would subsequently continue to spread doubts throughout the nation.
As the story continued, Moshe tried to reason with Korach, utterly failing to convince him or his assembly that what they were doing was wrong. And even G-d was oddly absent until Moshe “summoned” Him to basically open the earth and prove him right. So, the question is: why did Moshe have to suffer the blows of this rebellion in the meantime? Why was Moshe left to be so intensely humbled by the arguments of Korach and his subsequent failure to win back the allegiance of the assembly? Why did Moshe have to be left in such a desperate position where he had to roll the dice and call upon G-d to create an open miracle to prove his case?
The answer may be that Moshe was put into this desperate position because Moshe himself needed to learn the lesson, the truth of his own chosenness. Didn’t Moshe know that G-d chose him? He was there at the Burning Bush when G-d selected him, wasn’t he? He knew it intellectually—he certainly was there at the Bush, but he did not yet truly appreciate that Hashem, the G-d of spirits of all flesh, saw him, and only him, to be a suitable leader for the B’nei Yisrael. He didn’t fully comprehend how it was his role alone to lead the people. This much is evident by the fact that Moshe insisted numerous times that he was not the one for the job—not just at the Burning Bush, but throughout his time as the leader! He never wanted the job. He was never in it for the fame and fortune. Although it was his apparent destiny, he never wanted to be the leader.
And what was Korach arguing? That indeed, Moshe was correct all along. Moshe should not have been up on a pedestal as the leader [B’Midbar 16:3]; “Rav Lachem Ki Kal HaEidah Kulam Kedoshim U’V’Socham Hashem U’Madu’a Tisnas’u Al Kehal Hashem?”-“It is much for you, for the entire assembly is holy, and Hashem is among [all of] them, and [so], why do you raise yourself over the congregation of Hashem?” And is Moshe supposed to argue with this point? Moshe never wanted to be the leader, and if Moshe had it his way, indeed, the people would be able to lead themselves, as Moshe himself admitted back in B’Ha’alosecha [11:29], “U’Mi Yitein Kal Am Hashem Nevi’im Ki Yitein Hashem Es Rucho Aleihem”-“If only the entire people of Hashem would be designated as prophets if Hashem would place His spirit on them.”
So, Moshe did not argue with Korach about this point, but he tried to reason with him that his rebellion against Aharon was uncalled for. And when Moshe failed to change Korach’s stance, Moshe turned to Hashem, perhaps not just for assistance, but for clarity. Despite what Moshe felt about his own status as leader, he felt that Korach was no better fit. Moshe was serving as leader because he was told to, while Korach wanted power. Moshe did not take for granted what he already knew, that Hashem had handpicked him, because now, none of that mattered. Enough people were challenging Moshe for the leadership role he never wanted. So, he asked Hashem, the “Elokei HaRuchos L’Chal Basar” to reinforce His decision, to prove who really is suitable to lead the people and who is not. Yes, G-d waited until Moshe himself summoned Him to tell the world who needs to be the leader. Only when Moshe called, G-d responded.
Until now, we’ve been taking it for granted that Moshe was G-d’s chosen leader for the B’nei Yisrael, but why really was Moshe chosen over everyone else anyway? There may be many correct answers to this question, however, the Midrash [Shemos Rabbah 2:2] offers an answer which requires one to look back in Shemos, just before the scene of the Burning Bush, just before Moshe is chosen. The Torah says simply [Shemos 3:1], “U’Moshe Hayah Ro’eh Es Tzon Yisro Chosno Kohein Midiyan Vayinhag Es HaTzon Achar HaMidbar…”-“And Moshe was shepherding the sheep of Yisro, his father-in-law, Priest of Midian, and he led the sheep far towards the wilderness…”
Says the Midrash, because Moshe shepherded the sheep, compassionately guiding them and giving them to drink, he was fitting to be the compassionate leader for the B’nei Yisrael. Not because Moshe wanted the job, not because he was charismatic, not because he was a man of legacy, not even because he would make the strongest leader, but because he would be the peoples’ compassionate shepherd. Only Hashem could know for sure who was truly best for the job as Hashem envisioned it, and Moshe Rabbeinu was the only option.
And indeed, at so many points during his leadership, we see Moshe compassionately praying for the people, giving them to drink when they needed it. He was not just a leader, but he was their chosen shepherd!
Fast-forward to Parshas Pinchas when Moshe faces the reality that he will be stepping down. And here, the Torah reminds us that Moshe’s one misstep that caused him to lose his rights to enter the land occurred at Mei Merivah during his attempt to tend to the thirsty people and their livestock, to compassionately be their shepherd and give them water, to sanctify G-d’s Name in the process. Amidst distress and possible anger, Moshe, in that one moment, failed to be the shepherd G-d had selected him to be.
Now, with all of this background, Moshe speaks up to Hashem, “instructing” Him to appoint a new man to lead the people.
We asked before why it is that Moshe’s speech before G-d is prefaced uniquely with the line, “Vayidabeir Moshe El Hashem Leimor”-“And Moshe spoke to Hashem saying,” a reversal of the famous way G-d had always instructed him to tend to the people, but now, the answer should be clear. If G-d had spoken to Moshe for the needs of the people, now, when Moshe realizes that he will soon no longer be able to serve those needs, he switches roles and tells G-d to tend to the needs of the people, to give them a leader. In this exact vein, Rashi [citing Sifrei 138] praises Moshe, at this very point, for concerning himself with none other than the needs of the people as he is on his way out of office! Now, when he practically has nothing left—nothing to lose and nothing to gain—like a true shepherd, a selfless Moshe notices a flock in need and prays that G-d tend to them.
Now, Moshe finally appreciated his role and understood what he had been struggling with his whole life—why he had to be the leader for the people. Why did G-d choose him anyway? Wasn’t Korach’s argument really right? Shouldn’t the people just lead themselves? Let the L-rd be their Shepherd that they shall not lack [Tehillim 23:1]! What was Moshe’s purpose all this time?
Moshe expresses here that he realizes that, sure, the people would always have G-d, but there would still be a shepherd that they might be lacking—the necessary human shepherd to guide them, to emulate G-d, to tend to their needs directly, to teach Hashem’s Torah to them and thereby sanctify His Name. Without that role filled properly, the people would lose their way and they would undoubtedly fail. Without that leadership, there would just be anarchy. They would not follow G-d, and as a result, they would ultimately be without a shepherd.
Moshe’s request for a shepherd for the people was not just poetic embellishment to his speech. It was, in fact, exactly what the people needed. They don’t need to have a powerful and strong leading authority just to fight wars and give orders. They need a shepherd to guide them firmly but compassionately on their path to serving G-d. At this point, he has accepted that he has messed up and that he could no longer serve as that leader, but in the meantime, he sees that the people would need someone to lead them.
Now, this much, we argued, was obvious. Of course the people need a leader. There’s no way that they would end up without a leader. Moshe had to know that. What then was he asking from G-d? He is calling upon G-d to do exactly what He did at the scene of the Burning Bush and at the climax of Korach’s rebellion—that Hashem be the One to choose the appropriate leader for the people. There are many great and esteemed people in the nation—many people who will be more than willing to stand up and become the leaders of the nation. We already know that from Korach. Of course, there are many available, respected candidates. Moshe personally might have liked his own children to carry on his legacy and inherit the role as leaders for the nation. But what Moshe prays for is that Hashem chooses the next leader, because he realizes that only Hashem, “Elokei Ruchos L’Chal Basar”-“G-d of spirits for all flesh,” knows the inner essence all humans and can choose the most appropriate successor. If Hashem and His infinite wisdom are not a part of that choice, the people will likely still have a leader, but they might also still be without the right shepherd.
Although Moshe didn’t always want the job, and although he might’ve even messed up and ultimately lost his right to continue that job, he showed during his run, and even more by the end of his run, that he was, at heart, a truly successful shepherd for the B’nei Yisrael. Accordingly, Hashem listened to Moshe’s prayer and selected the one man who most thirstily drank from his teachings, Moshe Rabbeinu’s most devoted disciple, Yehoshua to lead the flock, demonstrating the lasting impact Moshe really had and just how important it is to have the right shepherd.
May we all be Zocheh to not only follow the leadership and inspiration of our spiritual shepherds and stay steadfastly on the path of Avodas Hashem, but do our part in inspiring, guiding, and shepherding each other on that path, and Hashem, our true Shepherd, shall guide us on the path to Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂