Weekly Torah Commentary – Pinchas July 15, 2011

In chapter 27 of this week’s portion, Moshe asks Hashem to appoint a successor to him who will go out and come in before the people lest the assembly of Hashem be like sheep who do not have a shepherd to lead them.  The primary qualities that Moshe declares for a true leader of Israel are just two:  humility and self-sacrifice.

It is written of Yehoshua (Joshua) that he was a man “in whom there was spirit” – how do we understand this as fulfilling the requirements Moshe set forth?

Human beings are created with a body and a spirit.  The body produces all of the cravings that stimulate self-gratification, whether in food, physical comfort or other areas of natural pleasure.  The spirit is that force that drives us to pursue a higher goal in life.  Therefore, these two components of every human being struggle for mastery over the individual.  To the degree that the spirit is in control and dominant, to that degree is a person able to sublimate his selfish desires and be dedicated to his purpose, his mission in life.

A self-absorbed person is unable to truly emphasize with others.  It is written of a very holy Rabbi that at one time in his life, he had to undergo a very painful medical procedure which he endured without uttering one sound.  The doctor was astonished and asked the Rabbi how he could keep from crying out.  The Rabbi answered, “If I can withstand the pain I feel when someone comes to me for help with a problem and I am unable to help him, surely I can stand this pain for it’s far less serious.”

The ability to relate to and understand others requires heartfelt empathy.  Such empathy is only possible in a person who has learned to rule over his self-serving drives and lives by his spirit, seeking the higher path of life, the ways of Hashem.

The ability to be a shepherd who cares more for his flock than for himself (whether that “flock” is his immediate family, a congregation, or a group of employees) requires someone who can readily sacrifice his own will, desires and drives in order to care and be fair with everyone in his charge.  The first place that this kind of leadership needs to develop is in the home with fathers being exemplary in self-sacrifice and caring for their wives and children for it is a known principle that children learn more by what they experience than by what they’re told.

Hashem’s response to Moshe is to say, “Take to yourself Yehoshua, the son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit.”  Over the thirty plus years that Joshua had been the servant of Moshe, he had succeeded in achieving such mastery of his spirit over his physical inclinations that he was a prepared vessel for leadership.

Every person is engaged in the life-long struggle for the spirit to be master over the body, for service to supercede selfishness.  Our dignity — and holiness — are directly proportional to the degree to which we achieve the dominance of spirit over self-gratification.

In Tune with Torah this week = sit back for a few moments and think about your general mode of operation with your family and friends.  Are you in the habit of acting and reacting for self-gratification or are you improving in putting the needs of others ahead of your own and truly caring about those around you to the point of serving them rather than looking to be served?

Shabbat Shalom

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