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Drash on Pinchas 2023

Rabbi Adi Cohen

Temple Shalom Gold Coast

Moshe, the great leader who dedicated his life to liberate the Israelites, is about to die and hand over the leadership to Yehoshua. In Midrash Bamidbar Raba 21:2, we find that God granted Moshe one last wish before his death. Standing on the top of a mountain looking toward the Promised Land, the obvious request would be to complete his Life journey and enter the land. Moshe however is more concerned about the next generation than his own immediate gratification.

“The law is: If one sees many thousands of people, one should say: Blessed are You, Eternal, our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Wise One who knows secrets, just as their faces are different from one another’s, so too their understandings are different, for each one has a different understanding. and so too Moses requested from God, when he died. He said: Master of the Universe! Every person’s thoughts are known and revealed before you, and none of your children’s thoughts are similar to another’s. When I die, please appoint a leader who can sustain them all according to their own understanding…”.

The biblical text and the Midrash provides us with a three-fold understanding of the Sages approach to religious pluralism and social diversity.

The first – the Jewish religious acknowledgement, that there are many paths of faith and belief in the All Mighty, is not a modern phenomenon. Religious pluralism within Judaism, is a core understanding of spiritual life, starting at the birthplace of Judaism in the desert.

The second – Jewish people do not all look alike. We come from different ethnic backgrounds and from different cultures. There are Chinese Jews and Yemenite Jews, there are European Jews and African Jews, there are Mediterranean Jews and Indonesian Jews. The statement made by the Midrash is that there are no “us and them”. Judaism is a religion based on unity not on unison.

The third, and perhaps the most significant understanding, is that a generational shifts must take into account those differences. As we reach out to bring “new blood” and new members and affiliates to our communities, we need to remember that the Jewish expectation is that their understanding of Judaism will be different, their spiritual needs will be different, and their community dynamic, leadership and management skills will be different.

Moshe is mentoring Yehoshua into leadership over years of apprenticeship. He understands that his leadership will be different then his own, and the challenges Yehoshua will face will be different than the ones he faced.

I believe that like Moshe, so should we look at the future of our movement and our congregations, nurturing and mentoring future leadership under the assumption that their challenges might be different than ours, that the social fabric of our communities is likely to change and to embrace social diversity as our strengths. While it might not be easy, we know it worked for the last three-and-a-half millennials.

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