By Eliyahu Rosen – Former NCSY Roslyn Chapter Director
James Gandolfini’s character on the Sopranos was constantly struggling to balance his family life with his career as a mafia leader. Mr. Ganodlofini, who unfortunately passed away recently, represented a struggle similar to the one facing Moshe Rabeinu (lehavdil) at the end of Parshas Pinchas as he prepares for his own death.
Hashem leads Moshe to a mountain overlooking the Land of Israel and tells him that he will not be able to lead the Jewish people into the land (27:12-14). Moshe’s struggle to balance his family life with his “career” as the leader of the Jewish people surfaces in the next “scene” when Moshe asks Hashem to appoint a new leader for the Jewish People so they are not wandering “like sheep without a shepherd” (27:17). Rashi tells us (27:15) that Moshe was really asking Hashem to appoint one of his two sons – Gershom and Eliezer – as his successor. But Hashem said no– he should appoint Yehoshua instead.
Wait– why not? Why didn’t Hashem want one of Moshe’s sons to become the new leader of Bnei Yisrael? Wouldn’t it make sense to have the kids that grew up in the house of the leader become the next leaders? Afterall, Aharon’s sons were chosen as Aharon’s successor to the kehuna (priesthood). Every true kohen is a descendant of Aharon and his sons. Why shouldn’t Moshe be able to choose one of his sons to take over for him so he can pass the leadership to them?
Rabbi Jonathan Saks answers this question with an insightful distinction between Moshe and Aharon, and the types of leaders they were.
Moshe and Aharon each represented the two different roles that are essential to Jewish continuity. Moshe represented the role of “Teacher”, while Aharon exemplified the “Parent.”
The main distinction is that a Parent passes the heritage along to the next generation by virtue of simply having children. A teacher on the other hand, strengthens the chain of our heritage via study of Torah.
And that’s exactly why Moshe’s student was chosen to succeed him rather than one of his children. Hashem was sending us the message that Torah learning is not like the mafia, it is not dynastic. In the mafia, power is passed from generation to generation, thereby creating a “society” of those that have power and those that do not. Torah study, and its resulting spiritual greatness, is completely the opposite. It is open to everyone. The crown of Torah is available to any Jew that seeks it out– whether rich, poor, smart, or socially awkward, all of us have equal access to achieve spiritual heights.
Rabbi Saks points out that there have been many societies throughout history that tried creating equality by evenly distributing wealth and power, but none has been successful. Judaism is different because it creates a society of equal dignity by distributing knowledge – rather than wealth or power – equally among everyone. Torah knowledge is not reserved or confined for the “elite” Jews. There is no such thing as an “elite” Jew.
The message is that it may be tempting to say to ourselves, “My parents aren’t Torah scholars or Rabbis, how can I ever expect to be?” But that is the exact lesson that Hashem is teaching us through Moshe—Torah leadership is available to each and everyone one of us if we put in our best effort, energy, and time. It isn’t something that is reserved for Rabbis or their children. Torah learning, and the pursuit of closeness to Hashem is available to each and every one of us on our own level. It is up to us to go out and seek it.