By Rabbi Ed Gelb
Director Camp Ramah in New England
If you are a baseball fan, you probably know the adage, “never make the first or third out at third base.” Sometimes it makes sense for a runner to try to stretch a double into a triple, or get closer to scoring by stealing third base. But making the team’s first out at third base can kill a potentially big inning; a runner on second with no outs can have multiple opportunities to score. Making the third out at third base is also a no-no because whether you are on second or third with two outs, it generally takes only a single to bring you home, since you can take off from second on the batter’s contact. In baseball parlance, these represent classic “situationals” – varying circumstances that dictate prudent behavior.
Our rabbis understood that life is full of situationals. What is appropriate and right at one time is a bad decision and wrong at another. This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, presents two situationals that help us understand that exercising judgment, and not just reflex, is critical.
First, Pinchas is absolved for his vigilantism. At the end of last week’s parsha, Pinchas summarily executes two sinners who are desecrating the tent of meeting and averts a plague that is wiping out the Israelites. Normally, Judaism condemns vigilantism and calls for relying upon a rigorous justice system. To teach us how rare exceptions to this rule should be, it takes God to decree that Pinchas’s actions were acceptable.
Second, Joshua is named Moses’s successor over Moses’s sons and the newly crowned hero Pinchas. God chose Joshua on his merits instead of relying on the simple stability of lineage or the excitement of charisma. Perhaps at a different time or in a different place someone else would have been better suited, but in that situation Joshua was the man for leadership.
Making the right calls in the different situationals that we face in life is critical to success. We have only a short time to influence our children and teach them the values we believe in before we have to let them go out and make those choices for themselves. Judaism provides us with a recipe for success by giving us a rich heritage to study, reassuring family-centered rituals including Shabbat and the holidays, and the structure of a supportive community. Camp Ramah is a unique ally, in that peers and role models help advocate effectively for the same values you champion at home. By working together, we empower our children to make the right calls in the situations that life presents.