Thursday, July 5, 2018

Campaigning From The Periphery Or The Center?

There’s an adage in American politics, that candidates win their party’s primary by positioning themselves to the extreme, and win national elections by moving to the center.

Should a leader stick to his or her guns, or should they endeavor to compromise?

Parashat Pinchas begins by describing the aftermath of Pinchas’ zealous act to stop a plague ravaging the camp of the Hebrews in the wilderness. God rewarded Pinchas and his progeny for the act with a “covenant of peace.” A few chapters later (Numbers 27:18-23) Moses publicly declares that Joshua, his loyal assistant, would succeed him in leading the nation. Why is the succession announcement revealed at this particular moment in the Torah narrative and not later, closer to Moses’ death?

Among a few answers provided, is the response of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, known as the Kotzker Rebbe. He describes that after Pinchas’ heroism, which potentially saved the lives of thousands, Pinchas became, de facto, a prime candidate to succeed Moses, who was aging and had already been informed by God that he was not going to lead the nation to the Promised Land. For this reason specifically, the Kotzker Rebbe teaches, God instructed Moses to ordain Joshua as his successor. Acts of zeal, while popular, may not be appropriate acts for leadership. While God values truth, peace and compromise are greater virtues, taught the Kotzker Rebbe.

A leader must be able, when circumstances demand, to try to find common ground among conflicting positions. For this reason, reasoned Rabbi Morgenstern, Moses rushed to ordain Joshua as his successor.

The Torah teaches that great leaders most often try to seek and pursue peace as an ideal, even, at times, at the expense of the absolute truth. While both Pinchas and Joshua were righteous and worthy, according to the Kotzker Rebbe, God felt that the nation needed to understand that while zeal has its place, leaders must most often try to avoid it. This is an important and valuable lesson during the Three Weeks, the time of year which we dedicate to focusing on eradicating Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) from our midst.

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