Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Pinchas 5762/ June 29, 2002

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Pinchas 5762/ June 29, 2002

"Light a Candle or Fill the Cup"?

Prof. Shaul Regev
Jewish Studies Program

Let the Lord ... appoint someone - Why did Moses see fit to make this request after the passage on inheritance? Seeing that the daughters of Zelophehad had inherited from their father, Moses said, "Lo, the time has come for me to petition for my own needs. If these daughters inherit, it is only proper that my sons inherit my majesty." The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: "He who tends a fig tree will enjoy its fruit (Prov. 27:18). Your sons sat and did not busy themselves with the Torah; Joshua served you well and gave you much honor, working from early morn to late at night in your council. He arranged the seats and laid out the mats. Since he served you with all his might, he is worthy of ministering to Israel. Single out Joshua son of Nun in fulfillment of the words, he who tends a fig tree will enjoy its fruit." (Numbers Rabbah, ch. 21.14)

After all his attempts to persuade, entreat, and beg the Lord to let him enter the land were rejected, Moses finally accepted the verdict and sought to transfer the mantel of leadership to his successor, chosen by G-d. The above midrash connects the passage whose subject is the daughters of Zelophehad with the passage on the change of leadership and delivers the moral that spiritual leadership does not pass hereditarily, but is conferred on those who made the effort to receive it. Moses ostensibly wished to pass the mantel of leadership on to his sons, but the Lord told him to pass it on to his servant Joshua, who had not disdained to perform any service so long as he could be close by Moses in order to learn the Law from him. He did not boast about having been Moses' servant, rather he was prepared to perform even the most menial tasks, arranging seats and laying out mats.

The transferal of authority and leadership was done in two actions which Moses was commanded to perform publicly:

  1. To lay his hand on Joshua's head, before Eleazar the Priest and the entire community.
  2. To confer on Joshua some of his authority - "invest him with some of your authority [Heb. = hod, majesty]" (Num. 27:20).

While the act of laying on hands is one that can be performed publicly before the entire people and surely before the leaders, the second act is hard to explain in physical terms. How was Moses to confer some of his authority on Joshua? Ostensibly this was strictly an inner matter for Moses, insofar as beauty and majesty are not things that can be transferred to another. Be that as it may, neither of these actions resulted in any external indication of the authority and leadership which Joshua received.

The midrash, however, distinguishes between these two actions, saying: "Lay your hand upon him, like kindling one candle from another. Invest him with some of your authority, like pouring from one vessel to another" (Numbers Rabbah, ch. 21.15). This midrash seems to contain an internal contradiction, since in the first simile, "kindling one candle from another," the light of the first candle is not diminished in the least. In other words, Moses himself does not lose anything in laying his hands on Joshua's head. The second simile, however, "like pouring from one vessel to another," describes a situation in which the first vessel ends up with less.

Rabbi Shem Tov Melamed (16th century), in his exegetical work, Keter Shem Tov (Venice 1601), offered two ways of explaining this contradiction, both teaching us about the transfer of leadership. According to one explanation, there were two aspects in the transfer of leadership from Moses to Joshua: spiritual leadership, represented by prophecy, and the socio-political leadership of Israel, represented by sovereignty and dominion. Prophecy was transferred to Joshua in the way that one candle is lit by another: conferring prophetic abundance on Joshua by Moses' laying of hands did not in the least detract from Moses' level of prophecy.

Parenthetically, we saw this happen earlier with the seventy elders, when Moses conferred the spirit upon them and lost nothing of his prophetic powers. Joshua apparently did not understand this duality in leadership and thought that every prophet is also a political leader. Therefore, when he saw Eldad and Meidad prophesying in the camp he believed that this was an uprising against Moses' political leadership and suggested that they be arrested. Moses, however, distinguished between political and spiritual leadership and responded, "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets" (Num. 11:29).

On the other hand, there is political leadership, in which "two kings cannot wear the same crown." Political leadership cannot be split among several forces, but must be entirely in the hands of a single body. This sovereignty -- political leadership -- Moses transferred like "pouring from one vessel to another." With Joshua's inauguration as leader, Moses could not continue to lead the people but had to pass the mantel of leadership on to Joshua. R. Melamed put it this way:

Moses bequeathed to Joshua two things that he had. One, prophecy, and the other, sovereignty. Therefore, as against prophecy it says 'like lighting one candle from another', since Moses lost nothing at all. Regarding this it says "lay your hand upon him." As against the sovereignty which he had it says "invest him with some of your majesty," which is the majesty of kingship. Regarding this it says 'like pouring from one vessel to another', since two kings cannot wear the same crown. (Keter Shem Tov, 190a).

Rabbi Shem Tov's second explanation relates to the different points of view of one who gives and one who receives. In terms of the giver, the correct simile is that of lighting one candle from another, since the giver loses nothing of the abundance that he had beforehand. Conferring prophetic abundance on Joshua did not detract in the least from Moses. On the other hand, from the vantage point of the receiver, the correct simile is that of pouring from one vessel to another, since Joshua's cup had been lacking and now was being filled. To show how much Joshua was receiving, the simile of lighting one candle from another was inadequate. Rather, the second simile, of pouring from one vessel to another, was needed, as if what had been in the first vessel now passed to the second one, and the second vessel became filled.
Rabbi Tuvia ha-Levi (Safed, 16th century), in his commentary, Hen Tov (Venice 1605), believed that all the commands given Moses with regard to Joshua were aimed not only at establishing Joshua's position, but also at advancing him to a higher status than he had enjoyed previously. Thus far we did not encounter Joshua as a spiritual leader. The daughters of Zelophehad appealed to Moses and Eleazar, and Joshua was not there. There was also a hierarchy in the order of instruction that Moses gave the people: Moses would relay rulings to Eleazar, who would pass them on to the chieftains, and then to all the people, among whom Joshua was, as well. Now Moses was being told to place Joshua in front of Eleazar, not in the physical sense of presenting Joshua before him, but to rank him preceding Eleazar. In other words, the order of instruction henceforth would be as follows: Moses would instruct Joshua, and Moses' role would end there. Joshua would instruct Eleazar, Eleazar the chieftains, and the chieftains all the people. Thus from now on Joshua would rank second to Moses, not as he had been previously.

Later on we see that there is a discrepancy between the instructions given Moses and their implementation. Moses was commanded to lay his hand on Joshua's head and thereby to transfer part of the abundance which he had to Joshua. According to Rabbi Tuvia ha-Levi's understanding, in contrast to other commentators, Joshua was not among the seventy elders on whom Moses hand conferred his spirit. He remained, as the midrash portrays him, "setting up seats in the Beit Midrash," and was not yet ready for prophecy. Therefore the instruction was to lay only one hand on Joshua, symbolizing a limited transfer of abundance. Henceforth Joshua would supplement what he was lacking by inquiring of the urim ve-tumim. Joshua would not be a perfect leader, but would have to turn to Eleazar and the urim ve-tumim for assistance in his leadership.

Moses, however, to show that he was not jealous of Joshua's leadership, prepared him more fully for prophecy than he was instructed and therefore laid both hands on him, i.e., conferred on him a double portion of abundance. Henceforth Joshua became a consummate leader, ranking above Eleazar and needing neither Eleazar's assistance nor having to inquire of the urim ve-tumim. Indeed, in Joshua's subsequent years as leader we do not find him consulting the urim ve-tumim at every step.