Parshat Pinchas: The Three Hands of Leadership

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A Successor for Moshe Rabbeinu

In parshat Pinchas, God informs Moshe Rabbeinu that he will not be leading the Jewish People into the Land of Israel. Therefore, Moshe turns to God and asks him to appoint an appropriate successor. The Torah writes,

God spoke to Moshe saying, “Ascend this mountain and see the land that I have given the Children of Israel. You shall see it, and you will be gathered unto your resting place, as Aaron your brother was gathered.”

Moshe spoke to God saying, “May God, the Master of all spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the people. One who will lead them so that the congregation of God not be like a flock without a shepherd.”

God said to Moshe, “Take unto you Joshua the son of Nune, a man in whom there is spirit, and place your hand upon him. Stand him before Elazar the priest and before the entire congregation and command him before their eyes. You shall give of your splendor upon him, so that the entire congregation of Israel shall hear.1

Through God’s command, Moshe Rabbeinu’s hand became the conduit for transferring his own leadership power to Joshua. Historically, from this moment on, ordination in Judaism is carried out by the master placing his hand over his student and this act is called smichah(סְמִיכָה ). This word literally means “support” and the implication is that by placing his hands over the disciple the master is supporting him in becoming an independent authority.

But, when Moshe actually fulfilled God’s instructions, he did not use a single hand to appoint Joshua. Instead, the Torah relates the Moshe used both hands,
Moshe did exactly as God had commanded him; He took Joshua and stood him before Elazar the priest and before the entire congregation. Then he placed his hands upon him and commanded him, as God had spoken and entrusted his hand.2

Before we begin to look at why Moshe added another hand in the act of ordination, note that the section ends with an unusual phrase to describe Moshe’s adherence to God’s command, “as God had spoken and entrusted his hand” (כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר י־הוה בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה ). The literal translation of these words would actually be, “as God had spoken in Moshe’s hand,” as if to say that God’s speech was placed in Moshe’s hand. The sages teach us that the concluding words of a section summarize the entire section. Since this unusual phrase terminates the description of Joshua’s ordination (and ends a section of the Torah) we understand that ordination and the transfer of leadership from one generation to the next is a function of the hand. The hand has power to project Divine energy from master to student.3 When ordained by a Torah scholar, the hand has the power to transform the student into a sage in his own right.

Spiritual Power of the Hands

Let us now return to the question of why Moshe Rabbeinu used both hands and not just one (as God commanded) to ordain Joshua.

We are probably familiar with the notion that the right and left hand correspond to the sefirotof loving-kindness and might. However, in describing how God’s figurative hand released us from servitude in Egypt, the Torah makes a point of using three separate adjectives:

  • the great hand4 (יָד הַגְּדֹלָה )
  • the mighty hand5 (יָד הַחֲזָקָה ), and
  • the elevated hand6 (יָד רָמָה )

The Zohar on our parshah7 explains that these three hands correspond, in order, to the right, left, and the middle axes of the sefirot. More specifically, as already noted, the first two correspond to loving-kindness and might, while the third is understood to correspond to thesefirah of knowledge, the soul of beauty, which together with loving-kindness and might, form the triad of the emotional sefirot.8 The sefirah of knowledge is described as an elevated hand, because relative to loving-kindness and might it extends upwards into the neck and back of the head. An interesting image that follows from this correspondence is that the head is like a third arm that extends upwards. Each of these three hands represents a specific power of leadership. Let us now take a look at these.

A Man of Spirit

The stronger and more dominant hand for most people is their right hand. The right hand is considered the hand of leadership. There is even an explicit verse stating this in regard to Moshe’s leadership, “Directing to Moshe’s right, his hand of beauty…”9 (מוֹלִיךְ לִימִין מֹשֶׁה זְרוֹעַ תִּפְאַרְתּוֹ ). So, when the Torah tells us that God instructed Moshe to place his hand on Joshua, we can assume that this refers to the stronger right hand. By placing his right hand on Joshua, Moshe channeled his own capacity for loving-kindness into Joshua. Above all a leader has to love his people. This is the basis of all leadership. Loving-kindness allows the leader to see every one of the people as an individual.

Still, as much as loving-kindness is the dominant factor in rectified leadership, leadership without might is doomed to failure. Take for example rainfall, the essential symbol of God’s love for creation. The sages call rains that are truly beneficial “mighty rains”10 (גבורות גשמים ). As much as water and especially rain waters give us life, without a measure of might, i.e., the energy needed for the rains to penetrate the earth, even the greatest rains will only lead to above-ground flow that will result in a parched earth. To penetrate the earth and augment the water stored in it, rainfall must be mighty. Likewise, without might a leader can never hope to have a lasting effect on his people.

Adding the left and including it in the right is an important principle in Kabbalah. When the left is added to the right in the proper manner it serves to augment and strengthen the right. A leader must augment his love for his people with strength and determination. The might of leadership is represented by the left hand, “the hand of might” (יָד הַחֲזָקָה ). To ensure that Joshua’s leadership would be potent, Moshe also placed his left hand on Joshua projecting his might into the future leader.

The ability to include left in right is what Moshe Rabbeinu referred to when he asked God to seek a “man of spirit.”

The Third Hand

The story of Joshua's succession of Moses concludes with the phrase “as God had spoken and entrusted his hand” (כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר י־הוה בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה ). This phrase refers neither to the right hand of loving-kindness nor to the mighty left hand augmenting the right. Rather, it refers to the third hand, “the elevated hand” (יָד רָמָה ), which represents another essential quality of leadership.11 An example of the application of the third hand can be seen in Joshua’s behavior as one of the 12 spies sent to survey the land of Israel in parshat Shlach.

Upon returning from their mission, 10 of the 12 spies reported that it would be impossible to conquer the people dwelling in the Land of Israel. The majority 10 swayed the hearts of the entire people, sewing them with fear and hopelessness. Only Joshua and Caleb stood their ground and, disregarding the majority opinion explained that there was no question that since God had promised us this land, we will indeed prevail. Joshua and Caleb stood fast on their commitment to nothing but the truth even when faced with a majority that opposed them. As much as a leader has to understand and take account of all the opinions of his advisors and his people, in the end his convictions must remain firm. He has to have the power to lead even when the truth has fallen out of favor.

Amazingly, the preamble to the story of the spies includes an allusion to Joshua’s steadfastness as a figurative hand. Joshua’s name was originally Hoshe’a (הוֹשֵׁע ). Before he sent Joshua with the spies, Moshe added a yud (י ) to his name, calling Joshua (יְהוֹשֻעַ ). The added yud gave Joshua the spiritual power to integrate this quality of leadership into his psyche. But, the name of the letter yud, itself means “hand!” Specifically, in this case, the yudrepresents the middle hand of leadership.

The middle hand, the elevated hand, represents the energy channel that is the middle axis of the sefirot, which runs from the crown to kingdom. It connects the supernal with the mundane ensuring that whatever the circumstances in the mundane, a person remember his true higher essence. The elevated hand projects upwards as it were, connecting us with the source of our soul. There, we are never alone, we are connected to God’s enduring truth. Regardless of the situation, when a person is connected above, he is not vulnerable to being swayed by wrong opinions just because they are advocated by the majority.

To merit a strong elevated hand, one must have true humility before God. Appreciating Joshua’s humility, Moshe sent him as his own personal emissary on this mission and endowed him with the uplifting middle hand.12 Joshua was thus connected to Moshe Rabbeinu’s own subservience to the truth of the Torah and God’s word and had the strength to oppose the majority of the spies. Given to Joshua prior to his ordination, this connection with his own spiritual source and to Moshe his teacher, was a prerequisite for him to succeed Moshe Rabbeinu as the leader of the Jewish People.

Nurturing Leadership

Because Moshe had already given Joshua his quality of an elevated hand, the third hand, it is not stated explicitly in our parshah. But, it is alluded to in the final phrase discussed above, “as God had spoken in Moshe’s hand.” The middle, elevated hand is particularly related to the passing of God’s words through Moshe, because the Torah corresponds to the sefirahof beauty. So this verse implies that God’s words passed from His middle hand to Moshe’s middle hand. We can also learn from this that the first quality of leadership a potential leader should have is the uplifting hand (inspiring the right hand, as in footnote 12).

In order to ensure that the left hand’s might not overwhelm but augment the loving-kindness of the right hand, one must first be able to rise above conflict and opposition. As noted earlier, this is called including the left in the right, and is possible only because of the leader’s connection above with God’s all-encompassing unity. When the middle, elevated hand has become part of his name and his essential nature, the leader can relate to each person as an individual, appreciate the will of the people as a whole, and still hold fast to his own convictions.

Numerical Analysis

Let us now look at our topic from a mathematical perspective.

The numerical value of Joshua's full name, Joshua the son of Nune (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן ), is 549.

The sum of the three hands, “the great hand” (יָד הַגְּדֹלָה ), “the mighty hand” (יָד הַחֲזָקָה ), and “the elevated hand” (יָד רָמָה ) is 459.

Now, the way that Moshe initially describes the future leader is “a man over the congregation” (אִישׁ עַל הָעֵדָה ). The value of this idiom is 495.

All three values, 549, 459, and 495 are permutations of the same three digits,13 pointing to an essential link between all three groups of words. Before explaining the significance of this relationship, let us take another look at the idiom, “a man over the congregation.” The first thing we notice is that the word for “hand” (יָד ) is spelled with the second and second to last letters:14

אִישׁ עַל הָעֵדָה

This phrase has 9 letters, so they can be drawn as a square of 3 by 3, like so:

ש י א
ה ל ע
ה ד ע

The letters of the right-to-left diagonal, which spell the word “these” (אֵלֶה ), equal 36 together. Thus, the remaining letters equal (י ש ע ה ע ד ) 459, the exact value of the idioms for the three hands. So, what this configuration reveals is that the names of the hands are concealed within the idiom for a leader.

Focusing on the middle column, we see that its letters spell the word for “child” (יֶלֶד ), in order. Since the second and second to last letter spell the word “hand” (יָד ), the middle column reflects the fact that adding a lamed in the middle of the word “hand” results in “child.” The idea being alluded to is that though in order to possess all three hands of leadership, the rectified leader must be a mature adult—“a man” (אִישׁ )15— he must also retain the innocent earnestness of a child. When a leader is sincere as a child, his leadership can give birth (a verb that stems from the same root as child) to rectified successors from generation to generation.16 The sages explain that the yud that Moshe added to Joshua’s name before sending him with the spies was the yud taken from Sarah when God changed her name from Sarai to Sarah. The reason for this change was so that she would be able to give birth, providing us with another allusion to the power of procreation in the rectified leadership of Moshe and Joshua.

We can carry this observation further if we now add the top row to the middle column. The top row spells the word “man” (אִישׁ ) while the middle column spells the word for “child” (יֶלֶד). Note also how the remaining letters, ayin (ע ) and hei (ה ) repeat forming a distinctive pattern,

ש י א
ה ל ע
ה ד ע

Since “man” and “child” share their letter yud (י ), adding them gives us the 5 letters א י ש ל ד, which spell God’s Name, Kel Shakai (אֵ־ל שַׁ־דָי ).17 But, the gematria of these 5 letters is 345, the same as the gematria of Moshe (מֹשֶׁה ). What ordering these words as a square has now revealed is that Moshe was asking God for a successor on whom he could bestow his three hands of leadership and who would be like a child—a new version of the eternal truth of Moshe’s own soul.

Permutations and Attributes of the Heart

Now, let us return to the three permutations of the digits 4, 5, and 9 that we found earlier. Any three letters or digits have exactly 6 possible permutations. These 6 permutations can be seen to correspond to the six emotive sefirot, from loving-kindness to foundation. Corresponding permutations to the emotive sefirot provides a powerful tool for analyzing many topics in Torah. This analytic tool is especially useful in studying the inner dimension of the Torah, where almost everything is divided into 3. Based on the order in which 3 things are presented, once can find the particular attribute of the heart that the order is meant to invoke.

Of course, in order to do this we have to have a generic method for corresponding each of the permutations of any 3 things (be they letters, digits, or even ideas) to the emotive sefirot. The rule we use is that given three things, a, b, and c, corresponding to right left middle respectively their six permutations will correspond to the sefirot as follows,

might
bca
loving-kindness
abc
beauty
cab
acknowledgment
bac
victory
acb
foundation
cba

Actually, when considering permutations in Torah, we use the three unique letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah, י (yud), ה (hei), and ו (vav), to designate the three things being permuted.18 Our permutation chart will then be,

might
הוי
loving-kindness
יהו
beauty
ויה
acknowledgment
היו
victory
יוה
foundation
והי

Of course, to complete our correspondence, we must decide to which of the six emotivesefirot at least one of the six permutations corresponds. In this case, 459—the value of all three hands—corresponds to loving-kindness, because all three hands were implicitly included by God in his command to ordain Joshua with one hand—the right hand. 459 parallels the order of יהו ,

4 י
5 ה
9 ו

We can deduce the full chart,

might
594
loving-kindness
459
beauty
945
acknowledgment
549
victory
495
foundation
954

From the full correspondence, we learn that 495, the value of “a man over the congregation” corresponds to victory. The root of the Hebrew name of this sefirah (נֵצַח ) also means to conduct, as in conducting an orchestra. The orchestra conductor is indeed a leadership role.

549, the value of Joshua the son of Nune, corresponds to the sefirah of acknowledgment (הוֹד ). There are a number of ways to translate the name of this sefirah as its Hebrew name is rich with meaning (5 meanings altogether). Another translation is splendor. Indeed, we find that, God commanded Moshe to, “…give of your splendor upon him” (וְנָתַתָּה מֵהוֹדְךָ עָלָיו ). As explained elsewhere, the sefirah of acknowledgment represents a leader’s charismatic aura, representative of all three hands of leadership.

Notes:

1. Numbers 27:12-20.

2. Ibid. 27:22-3.

3. This is the only time that Moshe Rabbeinu ordains an individual by placing his hands on him.

4. Exodus 14:31. See also Ibid. 15:16.

5. Ibid. 13:9, and many more.

6. Ibid. 14:8.

7Zohar III, 246b.

8. The gematria of “axis” (קַו ) is 106. Added to the gematira of “hand” (יָד ), their sum is 120 = 15. Since both words have two letters in Hebrew, we do a dot-product multiplication on them, getting: ק · י ┴ ו · ד = 1024 = 322.

9. Isaiah 63:12.

10. Ta’anit ???

11Onkelos translates “elevated hand” as “revealed head” (בְּרֵישׁ גַלֵי ) an idiom meaning the equivalent of one’s head held up high. Interestingly, the names of the leaders of the Jewish people throughout the long exile since the destruction of the Second Temple are many times related to this word בְּרֵישׁ , meaning “head.” For example, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s is known by the acronym, Rashbi (רַשְׁבִּי ). Rashi’s name is actually an acronym that is a shortened version of the initials of his full name, Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak (רַבִּי שְׁלֹמֹה בֶּן יִצְחָק ); again, the same initial letters that make up בְּרֵישׁ . The same is found in regard to the Arizal’s name, Rabbi Yitzchak ben Shlomo (רַבִּי יִצְחָק בֶּן שְׁלֹמֹה ). Likewise, the Ba’al Shem Tov is also known by the acronym of his name, Rabbi Yisra’el Ba’al Shem (רִיבַּשׁ ).

12. In a related article, we explain that the three letters the make up the filling of the letter yud(יוד ) correspond to the right, middle, and left hands. When Moshe Rabbeinu gave Joshua a letter yud, it was the first letter of the filling, thus corresponding to the right-hand, the great hand. It follows then that there is an inter-inclusion here between the middle hand and the right hand. This inter-inclusion stresses that as much as the elevated hand allowed Joshua (and every subsequent rectified leader) to remain steadfast in his convictions, it was coupled with the right hand, ensuring that even when he went against the majority opinion he still retained his love for them. This is beautifully pictured in the image of a shepherd gathering his flock. Though the shepherd sometimes needs to overcome the flocks herd mentality by directing it into the pen for instance, he does this lovingly and with a kind arm.

13. The average value of 549, 459, and 495  is 501, the gematria of “head” (רֹאשׁ ), alluding to the head of the generation. The sum of these three numbers is 1503, the gematria of “You shall give truth to Jacob” (תִּתֵּן אֶמֶת לְיַעֲקֹב ); Jacob is of course the archetypal soul of the middle axis of the sefirot, corresponding to the middle elevated hand.

14. Apart from the two letters that spell “hand” (יד ) the gematria of the remaining letters (א ש ע ל ה ע ה ) is 481, the 15th inspirational number (481 = 152 ┴ 162). 481 is also the product of 13 and 37, but 37 is the 13th prime number. These words then divide into 14 and 481, where 14 is the product of 7 and 2, and 481 is the product of 13 and 37. As explained elsewhere, one of the mathematical analysis tools in the Torah is number pairs—pairs of numbers that appear together in many phenomena. The most important of these pairs is 7 and 13, which represent the feminine (7) and the masculine (13). In this case, their complementary multiplicands are 2 and 37, which together equal 39, the value of “God is one” (י־הוה אֶחָד ).

15. Of the various synonyms for “man,” this one (אִישׁ ) always implies an adult.

16. This was discussed in length in our series of classes on “There is no king without a people” where the letters of the word for “people” (עַם ) was explained as the initials of various idioms, among them “another king” (עוֹד מֶלֶךְ ), implying that the true king always allows room for his successor.

17. Genesis 17:1. See also Exodus 6:3 and our article “The Story of Pi.”

18. These three letters themselves correspond to intellectual sefirot wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, respectively. We can now note the correspondence of the letters י , ה , and ו, to all the sefirot including the three heads of the sefirah of crown,

the unknowable head
י
the head of nothingness
ה
the head of patience
ו
understanding
ה
wisdom
י
knowledge
ו
might
הוי
loving-kindness
יהו
beauty
ויה
acknowledgment
היו
victory
יוה
foundation
והי
kingdom
ה

If we sum the value of the Hebrew letters in this partzuf, we find that it is 173, the gematriaof “I am Havayah your God” (אָנֹכִי י־הוה אֱ־לֹהֶיךָ ), the opening words of the Ten Commandments. 173 is also the gematria of “Gal Einai” (גַל עֵינַי ).

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