There is a wonderful line from a book on Torah portions based on the teachings of Mordecai Kaplan. On this portion, Pinchas, we read “It is true that we are thrust into a world we did not make. But who makes the world into which our children are thrust?” ( “A Year with Mordecai Kaplan”. JPS. p.163)
Generations come and go and the leadership of generations is a powerful issue. This week’s portion is a key in the story of the Israelite’s and their journey. In Numbers 27 we read of the call to Moses to appoint Joshua as his successor. Moses is reminded of his previous error and that led to the fact that he will not be allowed to cross over into Canaan. There is the ritual with Joshua where he is appointed and we read the interesting verse in 27:20 that Moses is to “invest him with some of your authority”. To make sure there is this peaceful transfer of power, Moses, in essence, mentors Joshua.
There is a wonderful Midrash quoted in the Plaut Torah commentary (p. 1207) that states “Moses laying his hands on Joshua may be compared to one candle lighting another. No light is lost to the former”. I think that these passages speak directly to our generation. We are at the stage in life when many of us find ourselves having to pass leadership to the next generation. It can be a powerful moment. We may ask “what now?”, or “what shall my legacy be?”. Note the shared issue in verse 20. How many places allow or encourage this shared leadership or mentoring so that the “institutional memory” can be passed on? None of us wish to be forgotten as we move on to the next life chapter.
How we move from stage to stage can impact our own life, our self image and our own sense of self. It is hard to “let go” in so many ways. The Torah portion can be helpful in helping us see ourselves in the larger context of life. Leadership passes to the next generation as a natural order of things. Our children and grandchildren await their decisions, as do we.
Rabbi Richard F Address