Parashat Pinchas: Lay your hand — kindle flames

Brigitte S. Rosenberg is senior rabbi at United Hebrew Congregation.

By Rabbi Brigitte S. Rosenberg

What would you do if one day you were told: “It is your time to die, get your affairs in order.”  What would you be thinking about? What would you want to get done? Need to get done? Can you even imagine how you would feel?

In this week’s parashah, Pinchas, God says to Moses, “Go up the Mountain of Avarim and look at the land that I have given to the sons of Israel. And when you have seen it, you too shall be gathered to your people as your brother Aaron was gathered.”

Moses’ response?

“Let God appoint a man over the community who will lead them so that the community of God should not be like sheep who have no shepherd.”

In that moment of learning that his life will soon come to an end, Moses was concerned with the people and concerned about who would lead them. Perhaps after the years he spent listening to, speaking up for and tending to this flock of people, Moses needed to know that his work, his spirit, his effort would continue.

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The parashah continues with God saying to Moses: “Take Joshua, son of Nun, a man to whom there is spirit, and lay your hand upon him. Stand him up before Elazar the Priest and before the entire congregation, and command him before their eyes.”

God answers Moses’ request and names a successor and then asks Moses to lay his hand upon Joshua. What is meant by this? 

Midrash Rabbah comments: “Lay your hand upon him — is like one who kindles a candle from a candle. One flame, one light, ignites another and another and another … yet the light of the original candle is not diminished.”  

Moses, by laying a hand on Joshua, passed a little of his spirit, his flame, his light to him while diminishing none of his own light and spirit.

Unlike Moses, most of us aren’t going to be told when our time on this earth is coming to a close. This means we may not have the time to fully say our goodbyes or be a part of “choosing any successors” or even have the opportunity to consider how it is that we want to be remembered. However, Midrash Rabbah gives us a little insight as to how we might prepare for our end, even when we have years and decades left to live.


We can “lay our hand” on others; not literally, but rather figuratively: We can pass a little of our flame, our light, onto others. For when we share our ideas, our thoughts, our love, our passions with those around us, we kindle flames within them — we ignite ideas, thoughts and passions within them, allowing them to then pass them on to others.


It doesn’t mean that the people we share our light with become us; rather, our light is added to theirs, brightening and strengthening the light they will in turn share with others.


What an idea! One small light, from each and every one of us, being passed along and kindling flames and light within others. 

This passing of light allows each of us to be remembered for the light we radiated and shared. It allows others to continue, through their living and passing of light, to keep our flames alive in the world, and hopefully this passing of light, from one to the other, not only brightens our world but kindles flames of hope for a world redeemed, a world where the sparks and light of all of our best selves can bring peace and wholeness.