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Three Kinds of Leaders

07/25/2019 01:02:56 AM

Jul25

How does one rise to leadership? As God reminds Moses that he will die before entering the holy land, Moses is distraught that the Jewish people will be like “sheep without a shepherd.” Though God appears to offer a favored solution, our Torah portion, Pinhas, suggests three very different models.

The first model of leadership is that of Pinhas himself. When there is a crisis in the community and a breach of communal norms, Pinhas acts as a vigilante. When he saw people violating the law, he worked outside the system, with violence, to slay one of the princes of the people. He could be seen as a revolutionary leader (though perhaps, more accurately, he is described as reactionary).

In contrast, Joshua had the inside track. He had been Moses’ aide-de-camp for close to 40 years, and boasted of significant military experience fighting Amalek. He was even one of the spies who investigated the land. However, within the Jewish people, he was very much “law and order.” Earlier in Numbers, when he saw two of the princes of the people violating the law and prophesying inside the camp, he asked Moses for permission to harm them and stood down when Moses told him not to.  This is in contrast to Pinhas’s “impale first, ask questions later” approach.

There is yet a third approach, that of the daughters of Zelophhad. They work through the system, appealing first to Moses, then to God, to implement change and earn the right to inherit the land, a right previously denied to women. 

These leaders come from different strata of society. Pinhas, despite his “lone wolf” approach, is the grandson of Aaron. In contrast, Joshua is a career civil servant, having risen up through the ranks of princes despite having a non-famous father.  The daughters of Zelophhad come from a disadvantaged background - orphaned daughters of a father who “died for his own sin.”

Ultimately, each of them is elevated. Pinhas is offered the High Priesthood and covenant of peace. Meanwhile, Pinhas’s father is called upon to bless someone else as leader, as Joshua will be the heir apparent to Moses. The daughters of Zelophhad receive no formal title, but they do merit having the law changed in their favor. 

As we read these stories, we can think about the many people who seek leadership in our local communities and in the larger world. How do they earn the right to lead? Do they come with a sense of entitlement based on their background or from a place of humility? Are they planful or impulsive? Are they working within the system or outside of it? The fact that God offers blessings and encouragement to each of the leaders in our portion suggests that there is a time and a place for each approach.

Thu, November 14 2019 16 Cheshvan 5780