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Parashat Pinhas 5782

July 22, 2022

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A D’var Torah for Parashat Pinhas
by Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman


In Parashat Pinhas, the formal ceremony of leadership succession takes place. Upon being reminded (as if he needed to be reminded) that he would not enter the land, Moses calls upon God to appoint a new leader. By appealing to God as the “Elohei HaRuhot” – the God of all spirits – the rabbis explain that Moses wants to make sure that God understands that the new leader must be able to tolerate the different opinions and personalities of the people. (See Rashi to Numbers 27:16)

God informs Moses that Joshua will succeed him and that he should make a public display of this by standing before the people and placing his hand(s) on Joshua. (Sounds like our semikha, and it is indeed the source.) Through this ceremony, some of the glory of Moses enters Joshua and succession is complete.

And then, in the very next verse, the Parasha continues to teach about the various communal offerings beginning with the daily Tamid and proceeding to what we call the Musaf offerings for Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, and all of the holy days of the calendar.

Two questions immediately arise: First, what are these laws doing here? Surely it would make more sense to teach them in Leviticus? And second, now that they are here in Numbers, why are they juxtaposed to this particular story of Moses, Joshua and the succession of leadership?

Rashi begins: “What has been stated above? Moses said, “May the God of all spirits appoint…” and the Holy Blessed One said to Moses, “Rather than you commanding Me about My children, command My children about Me. This is like a parable found in the Sifrei 142.”

Here is the parable: The daughter of the king was departing from this world. As her life was coming to an end, she called her husband to command him as to how he should care for their young children. The husband responded and said, “I know you are commanding me with regard to the children, but it is more important that you command the children to honor me and love me after you are gone.”

What an amazing Midrash! God is worried that after the death of Moses, the people might abandon Him. It is as if the father tries to feed the children and they refuse saying, “This isn’t how mommy fed us.” Or they refuse to wear the clothes the father puts out because it was not the manner by which their mother had dressed them. God is afraid of what it will be like without Moses and He pleads with Moses to do something to make the people love and honor Him. Whoa! I think that is so powerful and so beautiful.

But it is still not entirely clear how it answers the questions which Rashi is addressing. It seems that we must conclude that what Rashi is teaching is that the offerings are the response to God’s fear. The midrash thus explains both why these offerings are not in Leviticus and why they immediately follow the succession story. When God asked Moses to do something to strengthen the love relationship between God and the people, the Musaf offerings were established.

But how exactly does that work?

We may answer that question with a beautiful teaching of Rav Eliyahu Dessler in his work, Mikhtav MeiEliyahu (this is translated into English under the title (Strive for Truth.) Rav Dessler writes:

We see that love and giving always come together. Is the giving the consequence of the love, or perhaps the reverse is true: is the love the result of the giving.We usually think that it is love that causes giving because we observe that a person showers gifts and favors on the one he loves. But there is another side to the argument. Giving might bring about love. A person falls in love with what he nurtures and begins to recognize in that person a part of himself…This is what the rabbis say in Masekhet Derekh Eretz Zuta: If you want to keep love for a friend, make sure you seek his welfare. (Strive for Truth, p.126)

In short, Rav Dessler teaches that love is born in giving, not the other way around. The more one gives, the more one loves. With this teaching, we can explain the midrash. God worried that without Moses, the relationship with the people would deteriorate and called on Moses to take action that will increase the level of love and honor that the people would have for God. In response, new opportunities for daily, weekly and yearly communal giving were established. More giving, more loving. And this is not news. After all, we know that offerings were called “korbanot” from the word “karov”, to come near. As Rav Dessler would say, the more you give the closer you come to another person.

Sometimes Musaf is given short shrift. It speaks with and about a language of love that we no longer use. It certainly adds time to the prayer service (especially when the smells of kiddush are wafting into the room.) It helps me to think that my Musaf is a response to God’s great fear. The fear that I will fall out of love. I cannot think of anything that makes me want to love God more. And when I say Musaf – any Musaf – that is my kavanah. I am here, God. And I am trying to love you even more.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman is Director of Fieldwork and a lecturer in Professional Skills at AJR. He is also the rabbi emeritus of the Westchester Jewish Center.