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What's Right?

“Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.” — Numbers 27:4

The Torah portion for this week is Pinchas, which means “Phinehas,” from Numbers 25:10–30:1, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 18:46–19:21.

A story is told about a great Torah scholar in Poland who attracted hundreds of students to his classes. This rabbi was renowned for his brilliance, and he was able to answer just about every question fired his way and prove his theories in the face of any challenges his students and colleagues could pose.

One day, a young man who had never before spoken up in the rabbi’s classes, raised his hand and asked a question that implied that the rabbi was wrong about the theory that he had been explaining. The rabbi looked around and noticed an old man sitting in the audience whom he had never seen before. The rabbi looked back at the young man and said, “You may be right, I will consider it.”

After the lecture, one of the rabbi’s top students approached him, clearly distressed: “Rabbi! Why did you let the young man imply that you were incorrect? You were clearly right, and even I could prove your theory!” The rabbi explained that after noticing the old man, he realized that the young man was possibly trying to impress the older man and the rabbi didn’t want to embarrass him. After a few days it became clear what was going on. The young man became engaged to the older man’s daughter.

To a true leader and sincere scholar, it’s never about being right; it’s about doing right. It’s not about saving face; it’s about saving lives and helping the people you serve.

In this week’s Torah portion five orphaned sisters went to Moses and challenged his law. The law given by Moses stated that land in Israel would be passed down from fathers to sons. Daughters would live off their brother’s land until they were married and then be provided for by their husbands. The five girls came to the greatest sage of the time, Moses, and said, “We have a problem with your law. It’s unfair. Our father had no sons, so we should inherit his land.”

What did Moses say? Did he say: “How dare you question my authority?” Did he say, “Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.” No. Moses, in essence, responded, “I’ll check with God,” implying that the young girls had a good case and he may be wrong. In the end, God instructed Moses to give the girls their rightful inheritance, which he surely did.

We can all learn from the humility and selflessness of Moses. It’s OK to be wrong or to not know all of the answers. The greatest people are not those who are always right; they are the ones who strive to do right, no matter what.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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