Posts Tagged 'Pinchas'

Yehoshua and the Peaceful Transfer of Power: A Thought on Pinchas

In Pinchas, this week’s Torah portion, we see Moshe starting the process of transferring leadership to Yehoshua. There we read:

And the Lord answered Moshe, “Single out Yehoshua son of Nun, an inspired man, and lay your hand upon him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before the whole community, and commission him in their sight. Invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey.” ( Numbers 27:18-20)

Yehoshua’s assent to power is a clear juxtaposition to Pinchas who the Torah portion is names. Pinchas took power in his own hands when killing Zimri and Cozbi at the end of last week’s Torah portion. In comparison Yehoshua is eased into his role by Moshe. God instruct Moshe to invest in him his authority so that the people will start seeing him in the role of successor. It is hard to imagine trying to fill those shoes.

In thinking about I was reminded of part of this wonderful video that highlights the importance of being the first follower. Please watch:

As we see here, the leader needs to confer authority on the first follower as equals to start a movement. Moshe is clearly the leader of the Israelite people, but would it have been a movement that has lasted to today if it was not for that first follower?

Most of history has been plagued by violent transfers of leadership marked by Pinchas-like acts of aggression. One could even say that the health of a society can be measured by the peaceful transfer of power. Like Yehoshua John Adams, a remarkable political philosopher, served as the second President of the United States (1797-1801), after serving as the first Vice President under President George Washington. Our first president, George Washington chose not to try to be elected for a third term. Power is alluring. It take a huge strength to make room for others to grow into leadership, but ultimately it is for the best.

-See another post on followership and Nachshon here



The Sound of a Ripple

Pinchas, the main character from this week’s eponymous Torah portion, is very similar to Elijah, the main character from this week’s haftorah (I Kings 18:46-19:21). Both of them zealously and selflessly fight for their God and their people. In the haftorah we see Elijah fleeing the death sentence issued against him by Queen Jezebel. He runs to the Judean desert. While he slept, an angel awoke him and provided him with food and drink. Reenergized, Elijah went for forty days until he arrived at Mount Sinai and took shelter in a cave. The word of God came to Elijah and asked him for the purpose of his visit. He responded and God instructed him to leave the cave and stand on the mountain and experience God’s Presence. There was a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders, but Elijah realized that God was not in the wind. Then came an earthquake followed by fire, but again Elijah understood that not in the earthquake nor the fire was God. After the fire there was a Kol Demama Daka- still small voice, and Elijah realized that the Divine Presence had appeared. Again God asked him why he was there and instructed Elijah to return and support the people.

It seems very mysterious, what is this “still small voice”? I was thinking about this a few months ago when I was working with Josh Lake and Caroline Rothstein on a program for the Cornerstone Fellowship based on Ripple the iconic song by the Grateful Dead.

In the classic Rabbinic Tradition, we explored this song as a primary text and added commentary on it in the from of a contemporary page of Talmud. I invite you to take a look at Ripple In Still Water or any of the other pages I have made. On this Daf we explored the meaning of the lyric:

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they’re better left unsung
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air (Ripple)

What does it mean that things might be “better left unsung”?  For Josh, Caroline and me, it resonated with this idea of the “still small voice” from our haftorah. As we wrote:

While Elijah thinks that God might be found in the large scale sensory experiences, God is in fact uniquely to be found in the subtle quiet moments when things are left unsung.

When reflecting on this and the people of Pinchas and Elijah, it is interesting to realize that not all zealotry is meant to be acted on or even heard. Some of the deepest acts of faith, family, and fraternity are subtle and even silent, like a ripple on still water.

Killer Shot: On Kawhi and Pinchas

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist and a Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University. In 2008 he delivered a great TED Talk on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives. Haidt studies the five moral values that form the basis of our political choices, whether we’re left, right or center. In this talk he said:

The third foundation is in-group/loyalty. You do find cooperative groups in the animal kingdom, but these groups are always either very small or they’re all siblings. It’s only among humans that you find very large groups of people who are able to cooperate and join together into groups, but in this case, groups that are united to fight other groups. This probably comes from our long history of tribal living, of tribal psychology. And this tribal psychology is so deeply pleasurable that even when we don’t have tribes, we go ahead and make them, because it’s fun. Sports is to war as pornography is to sex. We get to exercise some ancient drives. (

On one level these things are all about practicing and on another level sports, war, pornography, and sex are about power and teams. 

I was thinking about Haidt’s thoughts while reading the end of Balak, last week’s Torah portion. There we see Zimri and Kosbi, an Israelite man and a Midianite woman, fornicating in public. With a horribly miraculous shot, Pinchas kills them both with a toss of a spear. Falling short of war, this shot woke the people up by pulling them away from sex. And in a profound way this shot reestablished the teams. This shot seemed to so extraordinary that it must have been divinely ordained. So much so that in this week’s eponymous Torah portion Pinchas is given a “blessing of peace” because put an end to their lascivious behavior.

Lihavdil– making a totally separation, I was reminded of Pinchas’s shot in 2019 when Kawhi Leonard hit a miraculous shot to end the playoff series and beat the 76ers. Everyone knew that he was going to get the ball and at the last moment he hit a shot that bounced close to 5 times before going in, winning the game, and sending the Raptor to the NBA championship. It seemed to be ordained to go in. After that it was not surprising to see the Raptors go on to win their first NBA championship. 



While Pinchas brought that “ancient drive” to a pointed end, Kawhi’s  killer shot defined the team and unlocked their tribal drive. If there is no depth of this juxtaposition, we can just chock it up to the fact that I am a long suffering and disgruntled 76ers fan. I guess that 76ers are my tribe.

End It

My Opa used to say,” Never start a fight, always end it”. Alfred Katz was revered as a regal, wise, and peaceful man. In my memory was a European Solomon, looking for ways out of conflict.

In Matot, this week’s Torah portion we read:

And Moses sent them, a thousand of every tribe, to the war, them and Phinehas the son of Elazar the priest, to the war, with the holy vessels and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. (Numbers 31:6)

Why did they single Phinehas out? To this question Rashi said that this tells us that Phinehas was as important as all of the rest of them. Rashi goes on to ask why did Phinehas go instead of Elazar the High Priest? Quoting Midrash Tanchuma Rashi wrote:

He who began the commandment, in the that he killed Cozbi  daughter of Zur, let him finish it

Phinehas was a powerful character. He represented a certain zealousness. He seemed to be all too willing to end something that he started.

My Opa was a German ex-pat who evaded the Holocaust by escaping Germany. His oft quoted maxim was often interpreted with less Gandhi and more Phinehas. It was not that you should “turn the other cheek“, rather if need be you should end a fight “with extreme prejudice“.

As I too quote my Opa often to my children I find myself wanting to teach both messages. We are a peaceful people who walk in the ways of Aaron, another Kohen Tzadik, and should pursue the ways of peace. But some times we need to stand up for ourselves and our ideals like Phinehas a different kind of Kohen. Violence is never excused, but being Jewish should not mean being impish. We need to model peace loving embodied Judaism which always stresses follow through.

Problem Solving

A recent report by Daniel H Pink revealed that employees are faster and more creative when solving other people’s problems. Evidently people are more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of others than for themselves In his article we read:

Over the years, social scientists have found that abstract thinking leads to greater creativity. That means that if we care about innovation we need to be more abstract and therefore more distant. But in our businesses and our lives, we often do the opposite. We intensify our focus rather than widen our view. We draw closer rather than step back.

There are a number of implications for this in terms of how we run our businesses and our lives. Obviously we need to find more diverse and interesting thought partners to help us to problem solving in our lives.

In Pinchas, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the seeming intractable issue of the Daughters of Zelophehad. Their father died in the desert leaving no male heirs. What are his daughters to do in terms of his inheritance? They bring their claim to Moses who in turn brings the matter to God. God is the most Other and the best at problem solving. In this sense God is the ultimate consultant or in this case Consultant. But where does that leave us in a world in which it is hard to relate to a personal God?

I think we can see an interesting model in this story itself. At the beginning of resolving the inheritance crisis we read:

1 Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. ( Numbers 27:1)

Rashi draws our attention to the fact that they record them lineage all the way back to Joseph. Why not just stop with Manasseh? Rashi assumes that it is to teach us of their righteousness. As compared to the rest of the tribes, saying that the daughters of Zelophehad were of Joseph is to say that their investment in the land was in memory of Joseph who longed for his land or that they were one more generation removed from the land. Either way I think it is to teach us Daniel Pink’s message.

Pink teaches us that when partners aren’t an option, you need to establish distance for yourself. Create some psychological space between you and your project by imagining you’re doing it for someone else or contemplating what advice you’d give to another person in your predicament. Whether it was their ability to work in the name of Joseph or the distance they can place between themselves and the issue, the daughters of Zelophehad teach us how to be better problem solvers. Thank you.

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