In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we see opposite arguments sitting side by side. We meet five outstanding sisters who bring an argument of fairness to Moses. They state that since their father died without leaving a son, the laws of inheritance do not apply, and their family name and legacy will be lost. Their argument is based on the underlying assumption that a covenant with God sits on an ethical foundation of fairness. Moses presents their case to God, and God agrees with the women, changing the inheritance laws in Israel forever. It seems their argument of covenantal fairness prevails.
But then, immediately, we hear of Moses’ death sentence. God tells Moses to climb to the top of the mountain and see the land of Israel but know that he will never enter it. Moses responds with a plea to appoint a leader for the people so there is continuity –it is unfair to leave them without a leader, even for a moment. Coming immediately after the sisters and their successful argument for fairness, we are shocked to hear of what will befall Moses.
The two opposite texts highlight an ongoing tension we all have in our Jewish lives: my needs as an individual and the needs of a community. There are times when our spiritual needs seek privacy and isolation –indulgence in our own thoughts. Yet, we are commanded to build community and join a minyan. Some people have shared with me that sometimes it is the distraction of being around others that actually blocks their spiritual moment. Judaism keeps us balancing on the line between the individual and the community, we are not to serve only one, we are to harmonize them both.
In fact, we are given tools to engage outwardly at times, and to disconnect and journey inward when we choose. Some people cover their eyes with their Tallit at certain moments, others may cover their face with their Siddur – we all cover our eyes during Shema.
The five sisters argue for personal fairness, and they are successful. Moses argues for fairness for the people, and he is successful. It is we who cannot switch our thoughts to consider that what the people need may present as unfair to what the individual needs. Clearly, the new generation of Israelites need Joshua as a leader, Moses could lead a generation of slaves, not a generation of freeborn.
Whether it is something as grand as leadership and legacy, or something as personal as how many times we go to shul, the question of balancing the personal and the communal is always a delicate balance of fairness and fulfillment.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.