Yom Shishi, 19 Iyyar 5779
Friday, 24 May 2019
Parahat Pinchas 2012

Parashat Pinchas: Rabbi Rebecca Quassim-Birk
13th July 2012

Last week I had the privilege of presenting one of our new rabbis, Lea Muhlstein for her ordination. It was palpably intense with all the anticipation for the new rabbis and what they may bring.

New leadership has that ambiguous quality of being new, unknown and untried. You know the shops that have those signs;

If we haven’t got it you don’t need it.

But the truth is we don’t know always know what we’re missing, what we might have. And new leadership needs presenting in an intimate way.

In this parasha Moses is prepared for the passing on of his leadership with the instruction to Moses Single out Joshua son of Nun, an inspired man and lay your hand upon him.

What is so striking is the direction for the giving of semicha, the laying of hands upon Joshua to pass on the spirit and responsiblity of leadership, to innovate both the new leader and era.

Following reference in Leviticus and earlier in Numbers yadeicha implies hands (plural) both hands were needed for passing on religious authority and this became to be semicha , rabbinic ordination.

The physicality of the encounter of Moses to Joshua, the laying on of hands was reflected in our own ordination service last week when Rabbi Charles Middleburgh gave semicha to Lea Muhlstein and Rabbi Sheila Shulman did so for Peter Radanzki. Both insisted the ordinands were holding their Torah scroll at the moment of ordination so that their hands were free to give semicha. The physical connection was critical just as it was with Moses and Joshua, physical connection lends authority and links the chain of leadership. The rabbinic legend of the mantle/garment of leadership speaks to this. Something is physically handed down.

It’s notable therefore in reading this week’s haftarah from 1 Kings. Elijah is nearing the end of his service and called to pass on his leadership he is brought to, (or finds Elisha) and offers a radically different way of passing on his leadership, you could say a flippant and casual approach. Elijah takes his mantle (of leadership perhaps) and throws it at Elisha, in hebrew v’yashlech tossing it. No gentle passing or laying of hands. Elijah went over to him and tossed his mantles onto him. (1 Kings 19:8-15)

And of course when you read closer. This moment of pass ing to Elisha comes reluctantly for Elijah. After his (un asked for) showdown with the prophets of Baal, God expresses disappointment in the drama by suggesting the end of Elijah’s leadership and the anointing of Elisha to take his place, leNavi tachtecha. (19:16)

So maybe no suprises that Elisha passes his mantle rather petulantly.

The passing of leadership is a profoundly physical and related process in Biblical tradition. And this tradition continues even into our own Leo Baeck ordination. It confers a connection that is palpable and transforms the intellectual passage of leadership and shalsheret hakabbalah into a generous and intimate act. It can’t fail to be a good thing.