The final section of Parashat Pinchas deals with the mandatory public sacrifices that were required on various occasions – beginning with the daily tamid sacrifice, and then proceeding to the additional “musaf” sacrifices offered on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and festivals. This section is preceded by the story of Moshe’s plea to God before his passing that He appoint a successor, and God’s instruction to formally appoint Yehoshua to that role.
Rashi (28:2), citing the Sifrei, famously explains the reason why these two sections appear in juxtaposition to one another: “The Almighty said to him [Moshe]: Before you command Me about My children, command My children about Me…” In other words, after Moshe demanded that God care for Benei Yisrael by appointing an effective leader, God responded that he must also command Benei Yisrael to “care” for Him, so-to-speak, in the sense of fulfilling their collective sacrificial duties in the Beit Ha-mikdash.
The question arises, according to the Sifrei, as the precise significance of the public sacrifices in this regard. Why was specifically this mitzva given to remind Moshe that Benei Yisrael must “care” for God just as we ask Him to “care” for us?
Rav Shmuel Borenstein of Sochatchov, in Sheim Mi-Shmuel, suggests an explanation by noting one particular aspect of Moshe’s request that God appoint a leader. In presenting this request, God referred to God as “Elokei ha-ruchot le-khol basar” (literally, “the God of spirits for every being of flesh” – 27:16). Rashi, citing the Midrash Tanchuma, explains this reference as indicating to God the kind of leader that Moshe wanted for the people: “Master of the world! Each person’s character is revealed and known to You, and they are not like one another. Appoint for them a leader who can handle each and every person according to his character.” Moshe requested a leader who like God Himself, recognized that all people think and act differently, and who would thus be capable of relating to different types of people, who would not try to impose a narrow, single approach upon all members of the nation, but would rather and appreciate, accept and embrace the uniqueness of each individual.
On this basis, the Sheim Mi-Shmuel suggests, we can perhaps understand God’s response. The korbenot tzibur – the sacrifices offered collectively by all Am Yisrael – represent the commonality of purpose shared by the entire nation, our joining together to serve God as a single, undivided entity. The Sheim Mi-Shmuel notes in particular the daily tamid sacrifice, which consisted of two sheep, regarding which the Midrash comments, “Just as sheep have only a single voice, so does Israel have only one heart [directed] toward their Father in heaven.” The collective sacrifices signify our shared desire to serve the Almighty, that while we have many differences, we speak the same “voice” in the sense that we all seek to faithfully serve God. Accordingly, the Sheim Mi-Shmuel explains, the Sifrei saw the institution of korbenot tzibur as reflecting the other side of the coin expressed by Moshe. While it is certainly imperative for a leader to have the ability to “handle each and every person according to his character,” this is only within the limits of our shared “voice” – the voice of sincere religious devotion. The Sifrei here seeks to clarify that the quality noted by Moshe as vital for effective leadership has limits. A leader must acknowledge and accept a range of different viewpoints and styles – but provided that these viewpoints and styles do not veer from the single “voice” of humble and unwavering commitment to God’s laws.