Num. 25:10 – 30:1
Rabbi Gary Pokras
Miriam had died. So had Aaron. This week, God reminds Moses that his time, as well, is limited. Moses, the consummate leader, responds to God:
“May the Lord, God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” [Num. 27:15-17]
God responds, saying:
“Take you Joshua son of Nun, a man who has spirit within him, and lay your hand upon him. And you shall stand him before Eleazar the priest and before all the community, and you shall charge him before their eyes. And you shall set something of your grandeur upon him in order that all the community will heed …” [Num. 27:16-21]
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes the extraordinary nature both of Moses’ request, and God’s answer. He wrote:
“This is not a call to Priests or Prophets – a sacred elite – but to an entire people. There is, within Judaism a profound egalitarian instinct: the concept of a nation of individuals standing with equal dignity in the presence of God.” [R. Jonathan Sacks, commentary to Pinchas, 5779]
In his role as political leader of Israel, Moses may very well have wanted a dynastic succession, just like what was granted to his brother Aaron and the priesthood. How proud Moses might have been to see one of his sons succeed him and lead the people into the Promised Land. God, however, had other ideas – which Moses had already internalized. He does not ask for a dynasty, but for God to select the right leader for the job. God acts just so. Joshua is the one who stood by Moses’ side for forty years of wandering through the Wilderness. Joshua would inherit the mantle of leadership.
Millenia later, another Moses, Moses Maimondies wrote:
“With three crowns was Israel crowned – with the crown of Torah, the crown of Priesthood, and the crown of Kingship. The crown of Priesthood was bestowed on Aaron and his descendants. The crown of Kingship was conferred on David and his successors. But the crown of Torah is for all Israel. Whosoever wishes, let them come and take it. Do not suppose that the other two crowns are greater than that of Torah … The crown of Torah is greater than the other two crowns.” [Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah, 3:1]
When the monarchy fell, and eventually, the Temple was destroyed, only one crown remained, but it is the greatest of them all. In the two thousand years since, the crown of Torah has been one of the secrets to our resilience and our moments of success. All of us are equal before God, all of us can aspire to lead, all of us can learn and even master Torah – all of us can wear the crown.