Thursday, July 5, 2018

Parashat Pinehas: Decisions

A Message for Parashat Pinehas 2018
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Several years ago, the well-known author Malcom Gladwell analyzed the various ways that we make decisions. His interest was piqued after he chose, on a whim, to grow his hair long. He first got several speeding tickets, which he had never before received. Then he realized that he was increasingly pulled out on airport security lines for extra questioning. And he finally understood what was happening when he found himself surrounded by several police officers in downtown Manhattan on one particular day. The men told Gladwell that they were looking for a rapist who looked like him. Glancing at the sketch, he quickly pointed out that the man in the picture was much taller, heavier and younger than he. Gladwell realized, however, the one physical attribute that they held in common: a large head of curly hair. Understanding the effect of the first impressions caused by the length of his hair, he was struck by the power of those “blink decisions” to our lives and set out to study the different decisions that we make.[1]

Haste makes waste. Look before you leap. Stop and think. Don’t judge a book by its cover. These principles which we were taught as children are sometimes right but other times not. Gladwell noted, for example, that many different professions and disciplines have a word to describe the gift of reading deeply into the narrow slivers of experience. He pointed to the “court sense” of basketball players who can quickly take in and comprehend all that is happening around them, and the “coup d’oeil” (“power of glance”) of generals who can immediately see and make sense of the entire battlefield. The ability to instantly break down and read a situation is often necessary for rendering the most effective decision.[2]

As a dignitary from Am Yisrael publicly sinned at the opening of Ohel Mo’ed, Moshe and the nation were stunned to inactivity. Pinehas, in contrast, sprung into action upon sight:
And Pinehas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon the kohen saw and he rose from the community…”
(Bemidbar 25:7).
God placed His stamp of approval upon Pinehas’s decision and action, rewarding him with the covenant of kehunah, as detailed at the onset of this week’s parashah.

At a later juncture in the parashah, God informed Moshe of his imminent death. Moshe then inquired about the nation’s future leadership, as he requested of God:
“Let the Lord, God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the community, who will go out before them and come in before them and who will lead them in and out on the march…” (27:16-17)
Moshe was seemingly inspired at this time by his knowledge of the battles that lay ahead in conquering the Land. Instead of requesting a man who was endowed with a power of insight or depth of perception, Moshe simply asked for a leader who would stand at the front of the people on their march in and out of war. Perhaps the image of Pinehas flashed through Moshe’s mind as he envisioned the future leader in the form of a man who was charged by instinctive decisions and immediate action.

God responded to Moshe:
“Take you Yehoshua bin Nun, a man who has spirit within him, and lay your hand upon him…And you shall set something of your grandeur upon him…” (27:18, 20)
Following Moshe’s description of Him as the controller of “the spirits of all flesh,” God described Yehoshua as “a man who has spirit within him.” He broadened Moshe’s narrow conception of the future leadership by highlighting Yehoshua’s “spirit,” which would necessarily compliment his military acumen. God then instructed Moshe to rest his hand upon Yehoshua in a symbolic transfer of his grandeur. His message was clear: Am Yisrael cannot be led by an individual who is singularly driven by the Pinehas-like quality of “blink decisions.” The leader must exhibit, as well, the Moshe-like quality of deliberate and thoughtful management of the people.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote that he is oftentimes asked, “When should we trust our instincts, and when should we consciously think things through?”[3] There is, of course, no simple answer. God’s message to Moshe, however, reminds us to search for a balance. While we must sometimes “blink” like Pinehas, we should other times “think” like Moshe.

[1] Malcom Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York, NY, 2007), pg. 284-5.
[2] Gladwell, pg. 44.
[3] Gladwell, pg. 267.