Good Erev Shabbos!

I dedicate the following divrei Torah l’ilui nishmas Dovid ben Sarah, and for a refuah sheleimah for Raizel Sarah bas Liba Shaina.


From this week’s sidra, we can derive some great lessons in leadership.  Today, we’ll discuss how a good leader speaks out when something is wrong, either with fire or gentleness, according to the situation.


After a few vital teachings on the importance of vows and their utterance, and especially a woman’s obligation with them, which is what our portion opens with, we read Hashem’s command to Moshe– one last deed before his soul would be called back Home.  This was a serious instruction to wage war against the Midyanim (Midianites) “who harassed you”, as retribution for their schemes to degenerate the Jewish People and tempt them, in order to evoke Hashem’s fury upon His people.  These tragic events brought upon them a plague, claiming numerous lives, which only ceased with the zealot Pinchas’s redeeming action.  You can recount the aftermath in the beginning of Parshat Pinchas.

Moshe transmits the word of Hashem to the people (Bamidbar 31:3), and battle plans are formed.  Moshe sends “elef lamateh latzava osam v’et Pinchas ben-Elazar haKohein latzava – a thousand from each tribe for the legion, them and Pinchas son of Elazar the Kohein, to the legion”, and the attack ensues.  The Israelite legion destroys the city, killing the men, the five idolatrous kings, and Bilam, the troublemaker of our parsha a few weeks ago.  Bilam was in fact the one that organized for the women of Midyan to enter the Bnei Yisroel’s encampment, to introduce immorality and idolatry; his last shot at bringing down the nation, since he failed to curse Israel.  Jumping back to the present, the Israelite legion collects the spoils of the war, the Midyanim’s cattle and flocks, wealth, and… women, with their young children.  They bring back their gatherings to the camp, and, with great honesty, present all of them to Moshe Rabbeinu and Elazar, the new Kohein Gadol.  Moshe, however, isn’t quite pleased.

“Vayiktzof Moshe al pekudei hechayil sarei ha’alafim v’sarei ha’maios habaim mitz’vah hamilchama – Moshe was angry with the commanders of the army, the officers of the thousands and the officers of the hundreds, who came from the legion of the battle.” {Bamidbar 31:14}

But why?  The army carried out the plans, just as they were instructed, they took down the terrible Midianite city, and they were even scrupulous in presenting to their leaders the spoils of war, not squirrelling them away without a word.  Where did Moshe find fault?

With the captives of the battle:  n’shei Midyan – the women of Midyan.  This was by no means a misogynistic attitude.  The problem was, that these were the same women who, under Bilam’s direction, propagated so many of the Bnei Yisroel to sin at Peor!  These women were the intentional catalysts for so much tragedy, and an indelible stain on the nation.  Moshe opened the people’s eyes to this realization, and followed it with directions to eradicate the boys they took captive, and any female who was a wife to someone, or a girl who had reached a marriageable age.  (Young and innocent children, however, were spared, and raised among the Bnei Yisroel.)

Perhaps this seemed cruel.  Perhaps it wasn’t, at the time, Moshe’s most popular campaign.  Yet, as the leader of the people, Moshe had to speak up.  It was totally impassable, to bring back into the midst of the Jewish People, someone that had caused such decline and downfall. History could not be allowed to repeat itself…

Let us note exactly whom Moshe addressed with his rebuke, in pasuk 14 (above).  He spoke to “pekudei hechayil – the commanders of the army”.  Why them?  This is another lesson in leadership, and responsibility for others:  Since these men were heads of the battle, the foot-soldiers’ missions were in their hands, and under their direction.  The commanders were instrumental in the fate of the soldiers– would they lead them, with G-d’s Divine assistance, to success, or would they slip in their judgement, and bring the legion to failure?  A leader is also entrusted with the guidance and welfare of the fighters, physically, emotionally, spiritually…  The army commanders of our sidra led the nation to military success, but they failed to rebuke their men, in bringing back to the camp, captives who should’ve been sentenced along with the rest of the Midyanim.  The heads were responsible for the actions of their warriors, so the ‘guilt’, and Moshe’s reproach, lay on them.  (Recall, that when the ancestors of the Shevatim, took their brother Yosef, and sold him into slavery, it was Reuvain who trembled first, fearing his father’s fury.  He, as the firstborn, knew the guilt of the deed lay on his shoulders, since he should’ve influenced his brothers to change their ways, thereby avoiding Yosef’s exile as well, even though he didn’t participate in the sin.)

We now know why Moshe was angry, and what was the basis for his chastisement.  A leader is justified in becoming angry at his people when warranted, especially when the anger is channeled towards a problem, and redirects it to develop a constructive difference.  But at the same time, we know anger has a good share of negative aspects.  Even with good intentions, anger never comes without a price.  In his vexation with pekudei hechayil, Moshe neglected to inform the people of what exact measures were to be taken with the possessions and vessels they had claimed, presently unkosher, from the Midyanim.  His upset state precluded him from doing so, casting a mist over the mind that only anger can create.  He only told them that the keilim, vessels, must be purified. (That is, with the waters of the parah adumah.  This ritual of sprinkling the sanctified mixture was also carried out on the warriors, who became ritually impure in battle and contact with death, and the captives who were allowed to survive.)

This is where another individual steps forward, and speaks up:  Elazar haKohein.  He elaborates upon Moshe’s urgencies, explaining the laws of Kashrus, as follows:

“Zoht chukat  haTorah asher-tzivah Hashem et Moshe:  ‘Ach et-hazahav v’et-hakesef et-han’choshes et-habarzel et-habdil v’et-ha’ofaret.  Kol davar asher-yavo va’aish ta’aviru va’aish v’taheir ach b’may nidah yit’chata v’chol asher lo-yavo ba’aish ta’aviru bamayim.  V’chibastem bigdaichem bayom hash’vi’i ut’hartem v’achar tavo’u el-hamachaneh. — This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem commanded Moses:  Only the gold and silver, the copper, the iron, the tin, and the lead– everything that comes into the fire– you shall pass through the fire and it will be purified, but it must be purified with the water of sprinkling; and everything that would not come into the fire, you shall pass through water.  You shall immerse your garments on the seventh day and become purified, afterward you may enter the camp.'” {Bamidbar 31:21-4}

Here, Elazar gently reminded Moshe, and those present, that there is more to making the vessels fit for use, in other words, kashering, than the ritual sprinkling.  There is also the precise process, and set of guidelines, for what is permissible, and how to, purge it.  You see, the above-mentioned metals, all absorb the taste of their contents.  Certainly, there were vessels that the legion claimed, that were formed from these materials, and it was obvious that they had been utilized in the preparation of prohibited cuisine, rendering them unkosher.  The traces of treif food required removal before the keilim’s sanctified use, and that was something that even the precious mitzvah of sprinkling the parah adumah’s ashes, could not accomplish.   Elazar clarified Moshe’s intentions to the people, and made a Kiddush Hashem.

In this scenario, Elazar steps forward as a leader, assuring clarity, and adherence to the Hashem’s word, the Torah.  He realized that Moshe Rabbeinu’s message may not have come across clearly, and helped the situation along by re-instilling the knowledge, and speaking up when necessary, preventing any misunderstanding or misconception.  I paraphrase the Rebbe, with a jewel of advice in a Yechidus (private meeting), with a man who was considering, but unsure, about creating an honest, informative newspaper:  “What right do you have to withhold what you know?”  If you know something that should be spread and shared, don’t hesitate– the world needs it!


We all know that it takes courage, and sometimes a bit of good chutzpah, to speak out for what we know is right.  When we see something in error taking place, we should ask ourselves if we can possibly remedy the situation, and redirect it along a more positive course.  Sometimes it’s a struggle to select the appropriate words, whether it’s a parent admonishing a child, a mentor patiently guiding a struggling pupil, or even one of us halting a group from a discourse of Lashon Hara.  But when we, figuratively,  take Hashem’s hand, and turn to Him for help, to His Torah for guidance…  Then He will put the words into our mouth.  Don’t be afraid to rise up to give what you can to the world.

What have you striven for, in your personal leadership?  What have you spoken up for, or against?  Please, I encourage you, share your story in the Comments section below.

The Messenger Bird