In Parshas Pinchas, Hashem repeats to Moshe that as a result of his hitting the stone (as opposed to speaking to it), he will die in the desert, and will not accompany his beloved nation to the Land of Israel. Moshe responds by requesting that they be given a new leader (27:15-19):
Moshe spoke to Hashem saying: “May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation; who shall go out before them, and come in before them… and let not the congregation of Hashem be like sheep without a shepherd.”
Hashem said to Moshe: “Take Yehoshua bin Nun… stand him before the congregation, and command him [regarding the leadership] before their eyes.”
Rashi has a rule that in the language of Scripture, one never “takes” a person. “Taking” something means to move it regardless of its will. One could take an object, or even an animal, but a person, who even if he comes along, does so of his own accord, is not “taken.” Whenever the imperative “to take” is used in the context of humans, it refers to the act of convincing: Influence them to come with you.
How, then, was Moshe to take Yehoshua bin Nun? Rashi explains: Move him with your words: “How fortunate you are that you have been chosen to lead the children of the Almighty!” Yehoshua was being offered the reins of a nation destined to lead the world, G-d’s chosen people – quite an honour indeed! In an example of true salesmanship, Moshe was to “sell” Yehoshua on taking over the helm by impressing on him just what an honour it was to be given the leadership of such a prestigious nation.
Yet the picnic was short lived. By the time he finished his sentence, Moshe was to allude to the difficulties of tending the Jewish flock: Rashi comments on, “and command him before their eyes”: Tell him that they are a stubborn, troublesome people: You must accept their shortcomings.
Imagine you’re looking for a used car. “Sir, this one here’s a beut! Just one owner – and I know him well. This guy takes care of his cars; oil changes, tune-ups, the whole bit. And not a scrape. And look at the low mileage. Plus, she’s got new tires, and a new paint job, and the interior’s spotless. And at this price – what more could you ask for in a car! As long as you don’t mind looking like a fool driving a seventeen-year-old jalopy that could have belonged to your alte- bubby – why it’s a steal!! Bahahaaaa.” You’d probably look elsewhere.
Any salesman that’s worth his name knows: Sell the positive – ignore the negative. The customer wants to buy, and he needs your help to do so. The drawbacks are obvious, so at all costs avoid focusing on them!
It thus seems strange that, in what is clearly being presented as Moshe’s “sales pitch” of the leadership to Yehoshua, the good and the bad are seemingly blended in an altogether unappetizing mix. “How fortunate you are to be asked to lead such a stiff-necked and irritating nation!” Yehoshua was well aware of their shortcomings. He had stood faithfully by Moshe’s side for the last forty years. He knew all there was to know. So why did Hashem insist Moshe “convince” Yehoshua to take over the leadership by reminding him about their shortcomings?
A couple gave birth to a child with a rare birth defect. After endless months of doctors, hospitals, and operations, the child’s heart gave out, and he returned his pure soul to its Creator. They were crestfallen. To be blessed with a child, only to have it snatched from their hands a few months later – what were they to think? Where had they gone wrong? What had they done to deserve such a bitter lot?
They approached a great tzaddik (sage), someone intimately familiar with their circumstances, and, with due respect, asked him to help them address their feelings of abandonment.
“A few months ago,” he began, “Hashem found Himself in a dilemma. He had a most precious soul in need of a body. A soul so close to perfection that it needed only a short time on this world, just a few passing months, after which it will have completed its ‘finishing touches,’ and will be ready to ascend to the highest Heavens. As long, that is, as no harm were to come it in the meantime. To whom, Hashem asked Himself, can I entrust such a precious treasure? Whom can I rely on to treat this soul with the attention and care it deserves, to nurture it and love it, and make sure its short sojourn on the earth will be pure and untainted?
“Hashem chose you. From so many other couples and families, He entrusted His beloved treasure with you. He knew that only you were up to the task; capable of giving of yourselves heart-and-soul for His child, and willingly accepting it being wrenched from your arms after so short a while – never having had the opportunity to reap the fruits of your labour. You have not been punished, G-d forbid; you have been rewarded. As hard as it is, you must realize that his soul was not meant to be here any longer, and that you were singled out by Hashem as the only ones fit to keep watch over His treasure.”
The hardest situations require the most capable individuals. Anyone can look great teaching a highly-motivated and over-achieving class, but only the most seasoned and skilled of teachers can take a hapless bunch of misfits and mould them into fine, educated individuals. In a war, “mission impossible” is given to the spy par- excellence; only he stands a chance at success.
Perhaps, then, this is all part of Moshe’s sales-pitch. How fortunate you are to be chosen to lead Hashem’s children. After all, it’s not just anyone that is capable of standing up to such a stubborn nation – only a person with rare leadership qualities could even consider taking such a position!
When life’s avenues present us with detours we felt we could do without, and we ask ourselves: Why? What have we done to deserve this? Perhaps, instead, we should offer a silent prayer of thanksgiving, for being trusted by Hashem to be able to deal with such a difficult and trying situation!
Have a good Shabbos.