Parshas Pinchas – Leadership and Legacies

Handing Over KeyThe arduous journey was finally nearing its conclusion.

The Jewish people had wandered through the desert for forty long years. Years filled with ups and downs, complaints and miracles, awesome accomplishments and tragic disappointments (much like life itself).

Through all their tribulations the Jewish people were not alone; G-d provided them with the greatest leaders who ever lived.

My nation, what did I do . . . I sent you Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam (Micah, 6).

But now the leaders were passing on. The nation was on the verge of entering the Promised Land; not so their leaders.

Although the Rabbinic tradition teaches that all three died the most serene death possible, by the “Kiss of G-d,” there were fundamental differences in the Jewish camp before and after their deaths.

First, the modest Miriam passed away. The people did not seem to realize her worth until she was gone.

Then Aharon died. Seemingly without a word of protest, Aharon accepted his fate, died, and was mourned by the entire Jewish people.

But Moshe did not go so quietly.

In this week’s Torah portion Moshe is informed that he too will not merit to enter the Promised Land. He prays, he begs, over and over and over again, to be allowed to enter the land. It is only the Divine command to cease praying that quiets the faithful shepherd of the Jewish people.

Of course, Moshe wasn’t begging to enter the land to enjoy its luscious fruits. Tradition teaches that Moshe desperately wanted to access the spiritual grandeur that is accessible only in the Holy Land.

This begs the question: What about Aharon and Miriam? Why didn’t they beg? Didn’t they also long for the spiritual gifts of the land of Israel?

Of course it is possible that they also prayed, but the Torah does not share that information with us. Alternatively, it’s possible that Miriam’s innate modesty and Aharon’s trait of accepting the Divine will (see Leviticus 10:3) did not allow them to protest. It can also be interpreted that the tragedy was most uniquely felt by Moshe, for it was to have been his role to guide the Jewish people into their land.

I recently heard another explanation, at least with regard to Aharon. When the Torah describes the death of Aharon, it explicitly states that he passed on his leadership role to his son Elazar. The Rabbis tell us that Moshe too very much wanted to pass his role to his children, but his request was denied. Perhaps Aharon felt his role was complete — having a child enter the land in his place was as fulfilling as if he himself were there. (One could possibly say the same for Miriam, whose husband Caleb did enter the land in a leadership role –  tradition teaches that husband and wife are one spiritual unit.) Moshe, on the other hand, being denied the privilege of having his offspring assume his role, still longed to enter on his own.

Of course, Moshe’s presence and influence entered the land along with the Jewish people, and remain for all eternity. After all, it is the “Torah of Moshe” that the Jews brought with them into Israel, and we cherish it to this day (see Joshua, 1). But this doesn’t minimize the fact that there is something special about having one’s offspring following in his or her ways. Kabbalistic teaching says that a child is “the leg of the father.” When Aharon’s son walked into the land, Aharon did as well. This specific gift was denied to Moshe.

There is no greater obligation in Judaism than “chinuch” –  training our children to follow Jewish tradition. We must realize that our ability to “walk” for all eternity depends on educating our children properly. And we must never forget that it is those who came before us who paved the way for us to “walk” today.

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This general idea was inspired by a thought related by my brother in law Rabbi Gud Meir Tauber. May the words of Torah be a merit for the soul of our dear father in law, R’ Pinchos Rubinson, Pinchos Menachem ben Chaim Beirach, zichrono livracha, on whose yahrtzeit I write these words (19 Tammuz).

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