After acting with certainty and resolve in the face of evil at the end of last week’s portion, Pinhas is rewarded with an eternal covenant of peace (and this week’s Torah portion is named for him!). But when it comes time for Moshe to ask God to designate a successor, Pinhas isn’t selected. Instead, God chooses Yehoshua to take up the mantle of leadership.
What’s so special about Yehoshua? In a fascinating study of his leadership, Rabbi Hayyim Angel notes that while he’s been at Moshe’s side for years and has the necessary military credentials (just ask Amalek), his resume includes plenty of hiccups. The first time the Torah records him speaking, at the mountain when the people are partying with the Golden Calf, he spoke wrong. He thought he heard the sounds of war; Moshe has to correct him.
Next, in the wilderness, when Eldad and Medad are prophesying spontaneously, Yehoshua jealously asks his boss to lock them up. Moshe, instead, is pleased by their taking spiritual initiative, and ignores his assistant’s wish.
Then there’s the episode of the scouts. Yehoshua is of course one of the two who comes back with an optimistic report about the Promised Land; but it was Calev, not he, who was vocal in defense of God’s plan.
None of this augurs well for Yehoshua’s leadership candidacy. But God doesn’t hesitate for a moment once Moshe asks for the succession plans. Why? There may be a hint to an answer in the following rabbinic statement: “Moshe’s face is like the sun, and Yehoshua’s is like the moon” (Bavli Bava Batra 75a).
On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at two ways to parse this teaching, and explore further what makes Yehoshua, and anyone like him, a great leader.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise