Pinchas: Moving On

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

"And Moshe did as G-d had commanded and he took Joshua and stood him before Elazar Hakohen and before the people" (27:22). Moshe's role as leader is coming to an end. His fervent desire to enter the land of Israel is to be denied. "G-d said to Moshe, climb the Avarim Mountain where you will be able to see the land that I am giving to the Israelites" (27:12).  Yet despite his personal disappointment it is he who approaches G-d asking that a new leader for the people be chosen.

Yet there is more than a tinge of sadness. Moshe, as fathers are wont to do, was hoping that his son would be appointed as his successor (see Rashi 27:15). Just as Aaron was blessed that his son Elazar was to succeed him as Kohen Gadol so too did Moshe expect his own son to succeed him. But such was not to be. The leadership would move outside of the family. Moshe being forced to anoint Joshua as he was standing next to his nephew Elazar must have been doubly painful, highlighting the contrast of his own sons and that of his nephew. No wonder Rashi (27:15) comments that Moshe demonstrated "the praise of the righteous who leave their desires and involve themselves in the needs of the community".

This failure of Moshe's son to be of leadership material could help explain the differing attitudes of the brothers towards their death. We see nary a word from Aaron about his impending demise, and for good reason. "They (Moshe, Aaron and Elazar) went up the Hor Mountain in the presence of the entire community. Moshe divested Aaron of his vestments and placed them on his son Elazar" (20:27-28). In light of the tragic deaths of Aarons two oldest sons, Aaron is comforted with the knowledge that his third son will be appointed his successor. Aaron could thus go to his death quietly and peacefully. 

Moshe on the other hand argues repeatedly to be let into the land of Israel, going so far as to blame the Jewish people for his death in the desert; "G-d also displayed anger at me because of you and He said: You too will not enter the land" (Devarim 1:37). He would not accept his fate and only stopped pleading to be allowed to enter the land after G-d got angry with him; "G-d said to me Enough! Do not speak to me anymore about this" (Devarim 3:26). 

While no doubt Aaron would have liked, no less than his brother, to enter the land, he was blessed to see his children carrying on his legacy. Moshe on the other hand would see no such nachat . His death would mark the end of his line and that was a most painful reality, one he fought until the end.

It is not coincidental that Moshe's successor is chosen in parshat Pinchas. The contrast of the grandchildren of Moshe and Aaron could not be more stark. "Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron was the one who zealously took up My cause...I have given him My covenant of peace" (25:11-12). It was the actions of Aaron's grandson that saved thousands of lives, turning back G-d's anger at the rampant idolatry and sexual immorality displayed by the Jewish people. The mention of Pinchas's grandfather Aaron is quite unusual in Biblical identification where generally only the father is mentioned. Pinchas in his own unique way (one we should not emulate), is the heir to his grandfather's legacy, that of "a lover of peace and seeker of peace".  

Moshe's grandsons are nowhere mentioned in the Chumash. They are tragically mentioned (see Rashi Shoftim 19:30) for their roles as "priests to the tribe of Dan" who were guardians of the "statue of Micha". Moshe would have nothing in common with his grandchildren. How sad!

Like many a great leader Moshe was not fully cognizant of his greatness - "and Moshe did not know that the skin of his face had become luminous when G-d had spoken to him" (Shemot 34:29). After all Moshe "knew G-d face to face" (Devarim 34:10) and his humility may have led him to downplay his uniqueness. Yet "no other prophet like Moshe has arisen in Israel ". While Moshe's biological children may have been wanting, he was blessed with millions of children. "And you shall teach your children - these are your students". We, each and every member of the Jewish people, are the true children of Moshe. May we merit to bring honour to his legacy.