July 9, 2014
In this week’s parsha, Moshe asks for a leader to succeed him. Hashem instructs him to appoint Joshua as his heir to lead the people after Moshe’s death.
Numbers 27:16 “Let Hashem, the God of the spirit of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly.”
RASHI Let Hashem appoint – RASHI: When Moshe heard the Omnipresent say to him ‘give Zelaphchad’s inheritance to his daughters,’ he said ‘The time has come for me to ask for my personal request – that my sons should inherit my position of leadership.’ The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, ‘That is not My intention. Joshua is worthy of being rewarded for his service, as he never moved from the tent.’ This is the meaning of Solomon’s statement, ‘He who watches the fig tree shall eat its fruit.’ (Proverbs 27:18).
Rashi said above that the righteous (Moshe) ‘ignore their own needs and concern themselves with the needs of the community,’ but we see from this comment that Moshe did think of his personal needs and wanted his own son to be the newly appointed leader. How can these two comments be reconciled?
Moshe was, first and foremost, concerned with the community’s need for a new leader. But this did not prevent him from asking God that that leader be his son. Moshe hoped that these two needs, the personal and communal, would complement each other and not contradict each other.
The latter part of the Rashi-comment on verse 16 is enlightening. He says that God’s answer to Moshe’s request was as follows: “The Holy One said to him, ‘That is not My intention. Joshua is worthy of being rewarded for his service as he never moved from the tent (a reference to Exodus 33:12). This is the meaning of [King] Solomon’s statement ‘he who keeps watch over the fig tree shall eat its fruit.’ “
We see clearly that nepotism is not looked upon favorably in the Torah. The position of leadership has to be filled by the man most worthy of the task, without consideration of family background. Throughout the Torah and Tanach, we see this principle enforced over and over again. Joshua’s son did not inherit his father’s mantel; Samuel’s children didn’t inherit their father’s position.
This idea is expressed most emphatically in the Talmud. In the Mishna in Eduyot 5:7 we are told that when the great Sage, Akavia ben Mahalalel, was on his death bed, his son made a request of him. “Father, tell your friends (the Sages) to include me in their circle.” His father said to him: “I shall not tell them that.” [His son] said to him: “Why? Have I perhaps done something wrong?” He answered him: “No. But it is your own actions that shall draw you near [to the Sages], or your own actions that shall cause you to be distanced [from them].”
Akavia was unequivocal: Your own actions, he told his son, will determine how far you get in life, not your ancestor’s accomplishments.
In another law, the Sages expressed this idea in its starkest form. They said honors are to be bestowed according to the person’s accomplishments in life and nothing else. “The mamzer (born of a unlawful relationship) who is an accomplished talmid chacham ( Torah scholar) takes priority over the High Priest who is an ignoramus” (Talmud Horiyot 13a).
The mamzer is the lowest level of a person with a blemished pedigree; the High Priest, on the other hand, is the highest level. In the realm of personal accomplishment, the talmid chacham is on the highest level; the ignoramus, on the lowest. This law says that personal accomplishment is to be awarded more honor than inherited status. This line of thought runs through the Scriptures and the Talmud and continues to be a guiding principle in Jewish life.
Rashi quotes the first part of a verse from Proverbs: “He who keeps watch over the fig tree shall eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 27:18)
Whenever Rashi quotes a verse in Tanach, we should check the verse ourselves. In this case, Rashi ( or the printers) quote only part of the verse, expecting us to know the rest of the verse. We should see what the complete verse says. It says: “The protector of a fig tree will eat its fruit and the guardian of his master will be honored.”
We see that it is the last part of this verse, the part not quoted by Rashi, which really supports his idea. As this verse indicates, the rightful heir of Moshe’s mleadership mantel is Joshua, for he was ‘the guardian of his master’ and therefore he ‘will be honored.’