Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Parshat Pinchas

The Rise of Yehoshua

In this week's parsha, we see two leaders emerge. First there is Pinchas who, despite showing decisive political leadership when he killed Zimri, is appointed a priest and eventually becomes the Kohen Gadol.

Later on the parsha, Moshe is informed that his death is near. "Go up to this mount Avarim and look at the land…when you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people" (Bemidbar 27:12-13).

Moshe accepts God's decree but pleads with him to appoint a successor "so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd" (ibid 17). God tells him to appoint Yehoshua "…lay your hand upon him…before the entire congregation…You shall bestow some of your majesty upon him so that all the congregation of the children of Israel will take heed" (ibid 18:20).

Sefer Yehoshua shows how Moshe's majesty was bestowed up Yehoshua. The book begins by describing Moshe as "the servant of Lord" and Yehoshua as "Moshe's attendant" (Yehoshua 1:1). Yet by the time of his death, Yehoshua receives the epitaph "the servant of the Lord" (ibid 24:29). How did his occur?

When Moshe died, the whole people looked upon Yehoshua to see whether he could fill the leadership void.

He begins by asserting his authority on the people. He reminds the eastern tribes of Reuven, Gad and half-Menashe of their commitment to lead the military campaign in Canaan. They respond: "All that you have commanded us we shall do and wherever you send us we shall go. Just as we obeyed Moses in everything, so shall we obey you. Only that the Lord your God be with you as He was with Moses" (ibid 1:16-17).

However, he was aware that a strong display of leadership was not enough. The people needed a sign that he was indeed the true heir of Moshe. Therefore, God tells him: "This day I will begin to make you great in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that as I was with Moses, so will I be with you" (ibid 3:7).

Moshe's greatest miracle was the splitting of the Red Sea. God therefore, does a similar miracle for Yehoshua. To cross the Jordan, the people do not need a miracle. They could build a bridge or they could choose a narrow crossing and wade across. They had no enemy chasing them and there were crossing points at the river.

Yet God wanted to show the people that Moshe's majesty had indeed been bestowed upon Yehoshua – so He split the Jordan for him.

Of course, the splitting of sea is a far greater miracle than the splitting of a river, as Yehoshua is not Moshe, but he is clearly his successor, he does have his majesty.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Pinchas, entitled: " It was After the Plague” appears at

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Pinchas, entitled: "Zelafchad's Daughters and Feminism” appears at


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