July 2018, Parshat Pinchas

Dear Friends,

This week’s Parsha is Parshat Pinchas. The Torah names the Parsha in honour of Pinchas due to his principled actions of leadership which is recounted in the previous week’s Torah portion. In last week’s Parsha the Torah discusses that Moshe remained stunned at the sheer audacity of the chieftain of the tribe of Shimon, Zimri, taking a Moabite woman, Cozbi, in full view of the people of Israel. However, Pinchas takes affirmative action to end this repugnant behaviour.

Pinchas’ conclusive actions result in the end of a plague that killed 24,000 people from the tribe of Shimon and for this, he is rewarded by G-d with priesthood and the honour of having the Parsha this week being named after him.

In short, last week’s saga discusses a dearth and void of leadership. While Moshe is stunned and unsure of how to act, Pinchas takes it upon himself to act in a critical manner.

In many ways, while Pinchas’ actions were deemed noteworthy by the Torah, the fact that there was a lack of leadership at a critical time was rare. Throughout the Torah Moshe is recorded as been an exceptional leader who shepherded the people of Israel from a nation of slaves to a cohesive self-sufficient nation.

In today’s age, we can see that the world is certainly suffering from a vacuum of leadership in many areas. While in bygone eras there seemed to be strong decisive leadership emanating from many people and places, in the age of the hyper-connected self-centred world we live in there is a void of real leadership.

While politicians are feted as leaders, you only have to look at public opinion polls across the world to know that people are unhappy. The rise and fall of governments worldwide demonstrates the frustration that the people of the world feel with the leadership that they are being offered.

That many turn to models, sports stars and movie stars for their inspiration in leadership is telling in itself. Time and time again these ‘leaders’ are engulfed in scandal after scandal in which a willing public feigns revulsion for their misdeeds and transgressions. One has to look no further than the story that dominated the news this week regarding footy star turned commentator Barry Hall as a case in point.

That celebrities are considered leaders in the first place is telling as to the lack of leadership we find ourselves facing.

However, in this week’s Parsha we do see some real leadership demonstration from Moshe when the daughters of Zelophchad seek his help in obtaining a share in the land of Israel.

As the five daughters explain to Moshe, they do not have any brothers and their father is no longer alive and therefore they fear that they will not be allocated a portion of land in Israel.
When Moshe seeks G-d’s guidance on resolving this earthly matter he returns and provides a definitive and powerful ruling: the women in their own right and on their own merits will be granted a plot of land.

This leadership took courage as it challenged both gender norms (that only men should have a portion of land) and required innovative thinking to improve the lives of those who sought his leadership.

While the leadership failings across society today are visible in so many areas of society, from politics to entertainment, there is one redeeming factor in the age we live in. The fact that all people are interconnected and have the ability to share their voices and speak up against injustice, atrocities and mistreatment of others and have the ability to do so freely makes the biggest difference. This means that at times when one witnesses such actions they must not remain neutral, but must take sides and speak up.

As Elie Weisel states:

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

We must take up the mantle of leadership when we are needed, which is something we at Ark Centre have proudly become somewhat famous for.

Wishing you and your families a meaningful Shabbat,

Rabbi Gabi