Torah Tidbit

In this week’s Torah portion Mase’ei, the land is finally apportioned to the tribes of Israel. After wandering, debating and negotiations each of the tribes knows where where in the land either east or west of the Jordan they are getting their portion of land. Numbers 34: 13-29 describes the process by which the land was apportioned. Moses instructs that a chieftain from each tribe is designated to receive the land on behalf of their tribe. In turn each of these men will allot the portion to the families of their tribe.

The JPS Torah Commentary points out that with the exception of Caleb and Joshua who are survivors of the generation who left Egypt, the rest of the list are new names. Each of these leaders is taking the helm of the tribe and for the first time serving as a representative. Yet in the context of the larger narrative this apportioning is seamless with the previous sections on land distribution. To emphasize this link the story of Zelophehad’s daughters that appeared two weeks ago in chapter 27 concludes in this portion in chapter 36.

It is this juxtaposition of changing leadership and continuous communal narrative that piqued my interest. How important it is to retain seamless transition despite changes in leadership. While change is good, here seamless transition is important for stability. The narrative of the daughters of Zelophehad reminds us of the passage of time but also the unity of the story. As we think to our modern institutions the lessons of this Torah portion are important. The ideal is for the new guard to take over without taking steps backward. The text assumes that the knowledge of the apportionment has reached these leaders and that everything will continue as planned. Now while we don’t have God and Moses showing us the ropes, we can take a clue from their book and make sure that we transmit not only responsibility but also the information needed to accomplish the task at hand.

Shabbat Shalom!

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