Pinchas: How to Deal with Bias

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השיעור לפ’ פנחס
לע”נ הרה”ח ר’ משה ב”ר עקיבא יוסף הכהן ע”ה פרידמן, שליח כ”ק אדמו”ר לבאהיא בלאנקא, ארגנטינא. נלב”ע כ”ב תמוז ה’תשע”ו. נתרם ע”י הרב יקותיאל דובער וזוגתו מרת מרגלית רעכיל קלמנסון

How objective are you? How much bias is involved in your decision-making process? And what lesson can we learn from the challenge of Tzelafchad’s five daughters to Moses?

Lesson Contents:

This week’s lesson dwells on a fascinating story in this week’s Torah portion, which the Rebbe uses as a lesson for the concept of Aseh Lecha Rav, the Mishna’s command to appoint for yourself a mentor. 

Many people often assume that religious Jews always ask a rabbi before doing anything and then blindly follow his opinion. In this talk, the Rebbe presents a more nuanced approach. 

Every person, as the Rebbe explains here, suffers from internal biases and subjectivity. When faced with important life-decisions, we are often tempted to go in directions that are not truly in our best interest. Therefore, the best thing you can do is consult with someone else, someone wiser and of greater character than you, to help you reach a decision that is truly suited for you.

As we will learn from Moses, a person should never be afraid to seek wise counsel.

A. Moses & the Five Daughters

In this week’s Torah portion, the Land of Israel is divided up among the People of Israel as they prepare to enter the land. Each family receives a portion which is destined to be passed on through the generations through their male heirs. 

However, a group of women contested the decision. The daughters of the deceased Tzelafchad argued that they should be able to receive the portion of their deceased father (source 1). Moses turned to G-d for guidance, and G-d told him that they were right—daughters without brothers would inherit their father’s portion (source 2).

B. Was Moses Indecisive?

It’s a nice story, but there is something puzzling: Why couldn’t Moses make his own decision?

Nachmanides explains (source 3 and cited by the Rebbe) that Moses was afraid of bias: When the women had presented their claim, they clarified that their father was not one of Korach’s men. That constituted flattery, and Moses no longer wanted to adjudicate their case.

In Judaism, bribery for a judge is considered a very severe sin, and bribery doesn’t only constitute of cold cash. As Maimonides explains (source 4), our sages viewed even the slightest form of help as bribery, disqualifying them from the case.

C. Personal Bias

The Rebbe points out how far fetched the bias is, in the case of Moses: Moses was the most righteous Jewish leader of all time, the very source of the Torah that we study and treasure until this very day. On the other hand, the flattery was negligible: The story of Korach took place thirty-nine years earlier, and even then, Moses didn’t really care for confirmation. He was just fine relying on G-d’s support for his leadership. Still, Moses viewed this statement as disqualifying. 

What is the lesson for ordinary people? We need to recognize that we are naturally biased, and therefore, whenever making decisions of great importance, decisions that will affect our spiritual future, we need to consult with those who are better and wiser than us. We each need to have a mentor.

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