Parshas Pinchas

June 28, 2013
TAMUZ 20, 5773

Parshas Pinchas
Candle-lighting Time: Between 6:59 PM and 8:14 PM

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of the birth of a baby boy to Rabbi Gadi and Eve Levy this week. Mazel Tov to the whole family!


Getting Touchy

By Rabbi Raphael Leban

You may not have realized it, but Rabbis are really very touchy people. In fact, the process of becoming a Rabbi actually requires some serious touching. The Hebrew word, ‘semicha’ that we translate as ‘Rabbinic Ordination’ actually means ‘resting the hands on.’ This does not mean that part of the Rabbi’s job is to touch his congregants, it means that Rabbihood (or Rabbiness) is conferred by the laying of hands, as we see from the very first such transmission of Rabbinic authority, which takes place in this week’s parsha.

As Moshe nears the end of his life, aware that he will not be leading the Jewish people into the promised land, he begs G-d to appoint someone worthy to do so in his stead. Although Moshe might have been thinking about one of his own two sons succeeding him, G-d names Joshua as the next leader of the Jewish People. G-d tells Moshe to take Joshua, before the entire people, and put his hand on him as a sign that he is assuming the mantle of leadership previously occupied by Moshe. That was the first semicha, or laying of the hands, which was continued for hundreds of years at the ‘certification’ of succeeding Rabbis.

The commentaries note an interesting change between the verse that describes G-d’s instructions to Moshe regarding this issue, and the verse that discusses Moshe’s fulfillment of those instructions. G-d said to put ‘your hand’ on Joshua, and Moshe put his ‘hands’ on him instead. What’s the difference? One hand or two. G-d commanded one hand and Moshe put both his hands on Joshua when publicly appointing him as his successor.

Rashi brings the words of our Sages to explain the change, who say that Moshe wanted to give Joshua the mantle of leadership ‘bayin yafe’, meaning generously, this he used both his hands.

Let me ask you, does the fact that he used two hands make his giving to Joshua somehow more generous? Would one hand have been more stingy? What if Moshe would also have put his feet on Joshua, would that have been the most generous way of giving him semicha? What are our Sages telling us with that explanation?

Since this is a Jewish piece, we’ll answer a question with another question. Why did Joshua merit to replace Moshe instead of Moshe’s own children? They probably had an insider’s experience of what it takes to lead the stiff-necked people through thick and thin?

The answer our Sages give is that Joshua, Moshe’s student, was the greatest disciple that Moshe had. He was always in the tent with Moshe, learning Torah. He clung to him like glue. That closeness and dedication to learning Torah from his teacher were unparalleled amongst the Jewish People, greater even than Moshe’s children.

Explains the Shiras Dovid, it is for the same reason that Joshua was chosen over Moshe’s sons that Moshe put his two hands instead of one on Joshua’s head — the closeness between teacher and student. The extent to which a student cultivates a closeness with his or her teacher is the measure of how much the student will receive and learn from the teacher. In Hebrew the concept is called shimush talmidei chachumim, spending time and effort to be involved with great Torah teachers as much a s possible. Even distinct from actual learning time. That’s what enables a student truly to model themselves after their teacher.

With both his hands, Moshe was generously cultivating the closeness between himself and Joshua, his greatest student, in order that he would be better able to learn from Moshe to be the leader of the Jewish people. And for all of Jewish history, the model was established. The great students and the great scholars know, to learn as much as possible from our teachers — sometimes you have to get touchy.

Living Forever

By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

Tzlofchod’s daughters approached Moshe, requesting to be given a portion of land in Israel. Although their father died in the desert, they still deserved to inherit his portion. This passage is difficult to understand, for we must explain why does the Torah mention where he died and why he died. Even though their father may have sinned, why would that explain why they would not receive their due portion?

Netziv makes a startling comment. Based on Tzlofchod’s daughters’ claim, it does not seem that he committed a terrible sin that would label him as an evil person. Their protest to Moshe was, “Why should our father’s name be purged from our family because he doesn’t have any sons?” They would have been unable to make such a claim if their father had committed a terrible sin that would cost them his portion of the land.

However, this remark truly requires further elucidation. What kind of claim should they have made?

Entering Israel and gaining a portion of it is an exceptional gift. On the one hand, to be able to dwell in the king’s palace, the land of Israel, is certainly a wonderful opportunity. On the other hand, one must deserve that merit. If such a superb gift would fall into one’s lap, it would cause one to wonder why such good fortune came one’s way. But would a person have the sense of entitlement to demand such a privilege? Definitely not. This was the case with the daughters of Tzlofchod. We can understand that their father’s sin would not have been reason to require them to forfeit their portion in Israel, but how can we understand their claim for it as their right?

Perhaps this can be a lesson for us in life as well. There are many times that we want particular ‘prizes’ in life. This can refer to our personal lives, business interaction or communal involvement. Often a person’s perspective is that he ‘deserves’ to receive a specific item or ‘treat’. Sometimes it happens that he will be granted his ‘wish’ but on other occasions it does not occur. A person can feel slighted or insulted that he was not dealt with in a certain manner. We have to be mature enough and sufficiently trusting in Hashem’s judgment that He has conducted affairs in an equitable and sound fashion. It may appear to us that we have been treated unfairly and incorrectly, but we must realize that we can be irrational and unreasonable when it comes to issues that affect us on a personal level. Certainly we do not have the right to protest and make demands in these circumstances.

The Talmud states that each person receives his lot in this world based upon the calculated prudence of Hashem. Often, due to our feeble comprehension of the global nature of different situations, we are annoyed, frustrated, disappointed and angered by events that do not conclude in our favor. But we must also confront the absolute truth that whatever does occur in our lives, Hashem is only concerned for our very best and therefore whatever does come our way is only for our ultimate benefit and advantage.

A Question for the Rabbis

“Through a lottery shall the land be divided…” (Numbers 26:55) A community that was voting on a candidate for Rabbi was evenly divided between two candidates. The community asked Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef if they could decide based on a lottery, as our Torah portion states the land should be divided. He answered that the lottery mentioned in this week’s Torah portion was through the Urim Vetumim, the breastplate of the High Priest, which was a form of prophecy and hence cannot serve as evidence of approval of any other type of lottery. In addition, the lottery in this week’s portion was merely matching something that was already owned by the parties in the lottery to the appropriate party, but was not deciding on creating something new as in the case of the Rabbinate. Rather, Rabbi Yosef ruled, the community must put the matter back to the vote until there is a clear majority (Responsa Yabia Omer 6, Chosen Mishpat 4).

Joke of the Week

The Doctor called Mrs. Cohen saying, “Mrs. Cohen, your check came back. ”

Mrs. Cohen answered, “So did my arthritis!”


This Tuesday begins the period of time referred to as the Three Weeks. It is a period of national mourning, which leads to a more intense time of morning called the Nine Days, which concludes with the terribly sad day of Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of both of our Temples and the bitter exile which we still find ourselves in. Summer has begun and the fun and enjoyment are upon us. It is often difficult to experience the full spectrum of emotions evoked by our splendid heritage. This is our challenge, and confronting our challenges is what has made us a great nation.