Read More >
The Parsha in a Nutshell
This summary is adapted from this week’s main Covenant & Conversation essay by Rabbi Sacks, available to read in full via the left sidebar (or below, if you are viewing this on your phone)
Moshe, having seen his sister and brother die, knew that his own life was coming to a close, so he prayed to God to appoint the leader who would serve after him. Why does this happen now and not seven chapters earlier, either when God first told Moshe and Aharon that they would die without entering the land, or shortly after that, when we read of the death of Aharon?
The Sages sensed two clues to the story beneath the story. The first is that Moshe makes his request immediately after the episode in which the daughters of Tzelophechad seek – and are granted – their father’s share in the land. It was this that triggered Moshe’s request.
The second clue lies in God’s words to Moshe immediately before he asks for a successor:
“After you have seen [the land], you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aharon was.”Bamidbar 27:12–13
The italicised words are seemingly unnecessary. God tells Moshe he will soon die. Why would He need to add, “as your brother Aharon was”? On this the Midrash says: ‘This teaches us that Moshe wanted to die the way Aharon did.’
The Ktav Sofer explains: Aharon had the privilege of knowing that his children would follow in his footsteps. Elazar, his son, was appointed as High Priest in his lifetime. To this day Kohanim are direct descendants of Aharon. Moshe likewise longed to see one of his sons, Gershom or Eliezer, take his place as leader of the people.
But it was not to be. In the book of Shoftim we read of a man named Micah who established an idolatrous cult in the territory of Ephraim and hired a Levite to officiate in the shrine. At the end of the story are we told the name of the idolatrous priest: Yonatan, son of Gershom, grandson of Moshe.
Some of the greatest figures in Jewish history did not succeed with all their children. Not all parents succeed with all their children all the time. How could it be otherwise? We each possess freedom. We are each, to some extent, who we chose to become. Neither genes nor upbringing can guarantee that we become the person our parents want us to be. Nor is it right that parents should over-impose their will on children who have reached the age of maturity.
Judaism places parenthood, education, and the home at the heart of its values. One of our key duties is to first and foremost ensure that our children know about – and come to love – our religious heritage. But sometimes we fail. Children may go their own way, which is not ours. If this happens to us, we should not be paralysed with guilt. Not everyone succeeded with all their children, not even Avraham, or Moshe, or David, or Shlomo.
When our children follow our path we should be grateful. When they go beyond us, we should give special thanks to God. And when they choose another way, we must be patient, knowing that the greatest Jew of all time had the same experience with one of his grandchildren. And we must never give up hope. Moshe’s grandson returned. In almost the last words of the last of the prophets, Malachi foresaw a time when God “will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 3:24). The estranged will be reunited in faith and love.
- Why do you think it is important for children to follow in their parents’ footsteps?
- Why do you think sometimes children wish to forge their own path?
- Do you follow in the footsteps of your parents? Do you hope your children will follow you?
by Rabbanit Sally Mayer
I once heard Rabbi Sacks tell the story of two great Torah giants, one of whose children remained observant and one of whose children sadly left the fold. They both educated their families and served as role-models of commitment and devotion, so why the difference between their children’s paths? Why did one set of children follow their father’s religious way of life, and yet the other turned away?
Rabbi Sacks related that while both rabbis both led lives of mitzvot, there was a key difference in the way they each conducted their seudah shlishit, the third meal of Shabbat. One rabbi always constructed and related a complex and intricate Dvar Torah to deliver at his meal; the other sat with his family and sang zemirot, songs of Shabbat. This was the family that remained observant. The singing is what kept the children connected.
Rabbi Sacks explained that this is because Judaism is not just about the intellect, but also about emotion. The Jewish people sang after the great miracle of the Splitting of the Sea, they didn’t take out a Gemara! King David wrote many songs of praise, of request, of anguish, of joy. Singing is our emotional language, it’s where we can express ourselves and connect spiritually.
While telling this story, Rabbi Sacks encouraged new generations of parents to make singing a part of their children’s Jewish upbringing. Parents and children alike can implement this advice at their Shabbat tables, making singing part of the weekly family Shabbat experience.
The new series of Covenant & Conversation: Family Editions features one new voice each week. We hope that this will further illuminate the ideas of Rabbi Sacks and encourage others to continue these conversations with the next generation, as we share the stories and ideas of Rabbi Sacks scholars.
Rabbanit Sally Mayer serves as Rosh Midrasha at Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum, teaches Talmud & Halacha, and meets personally with students.
A Closer Look
Rabbanit Mayer now reflects on some of the deeper lessons she learnt from Rabbi Sacks.
What is your favourite quote from Rabbi Sacks’ essay this week, and why?
My favourite line is “The estranged will be reunited in faith and love.”
I love Rabbi Sacks’ vision of hope for families whose members may have chosen different paths, even if for a time. The pain that families experience and the rifts that are created are in some ways the biggest tragedies in these situations. The hope and prayer that the parents’ and childrens’ hearts will return to each other is truly uplifting. It reminds us that no matter our differences, we must prioritise the love and caring that are the key to family connections.
What is a key takeaway from this week’s piece?
Rabbi Sacks’ message this week carries weight for both parents and children. As parents, we try our best to pass along our values, and at the same time we must recognise and respect that our children are their own people who have the power and the responsibility to make their own decisions, just as we did when we were children – we are not the same as our parents either!
Children can take from Rabbi Sacks the idea that you are the master of your destiny – you will stand on the shoulders of giants (your parents and grandparents) and you will also make your Judaism personal to you, by embarking upon a path which is uniquely your own. This may be empowering and daunting at the same time!
Question: For how many years did Yehoshua lead Bnai Yisrael?
And can you think of any significance to this number?
This question has been adapted from Torah IQ by David Woolf, a collection of 1500 Torah riddles, available worldwide on Amazon. For the answer, please head to the Education Companion section (directly below, in grey).
Torah Trivia: this week’s answer
Yehoshua led Bnai Yisrael for 28 years (Seder Olam, chapter 32). The Baal Haturim points out that Moshe’s prayer to Hashem to find an appropriate leader as his replacement contains exactly 28 words.
The Baal Haturim connects the 28 year reign of Yehoshua with the passuk, “ki hu hanotain lecha ko’ach la’assot” – “for He is the one who gives you strength to lead in battle.” (Devarim 8:18). The Baal Haturim also notes that that gematria of the word ko’ach – strength – adds up to 28 (its numerical equivalent).
Written as an accompaniment to Rabbi Sacks’ weekly Covenant & Conversation essay, the Family Edition is aimed at connecting teenagers with his ideas and thoughts on the parsha.
With thanks to the Schimmel Family for their generous sponsorship of Covenant & Conversation, dedicated in loving memory of Harry (Chaim) Schimmel.
“I have loved the Torah of R’ Chaim Schimmel ever since I first encountered it. It strives to be not just about truth on the surface but also its connection to a deeper truth beneath. Together with Anna, his remarkable wife of 60 years, they built a life dedicated to love of family, community, and Torah. An extraordinary couple who have moved me beyond measure by the example of their lives.” — Rabbi Sacks