Maximizing Our Potential

V’nasata me’hodcha alav l’ma’an yishm’u kol adas Bnei Yisrael (Bamidbar 27:20)

As the end of Moshe’s life began to approach, Hashem commanded him to appoint his disciple Yehoshua to succeed him as the leader of the Jewish nation. Although Yehoshua was a faithful student, Rashi writes that he wasn’t on the same level as his teacher. The Gemara in Bava Basra (75a) records that upon recognizing this difference, the elders of the generation remarked, “Woe to us for this humiliation and shame.” Why did they feel embarrassed only after noting this distinction, and why specifically did Yehoshua make them feel this way and not the even greater Moshe?

The Chofetz Chaim compares this to a case of a rich businessman who arrived one day in a small rural village, asking if anybody would be interested in becoming his partner in a new project. The businessman offered to put up all of the necessary funds and expertise, but merely desired a hard worker to assist him with managing and running the business.

Most of the residents were content with their simple lifestyles and were skeptical about the man’s promises of fame and fortune, so they declined the offer. One simple, illiterate villager decided that he had nothing to lose and agreed to become the man’s partner. A few years later, the pair returned to visit the village, arriving in an impressive carriage and dressed in a manner which clearly revealed the success of their venture. At this sight, the villagers were mortified and ran to hide.

They explained that they weren’t embarrassed by the wealthy entrepreneur, as they felt that his education and resources gave him advantages that they could only dream of. They were, however, quite shamed at the sight of the success and riches which had met their former neighbor. They remembered all too well that they had been offered the same opportunity, but only he was wise enough to take advantage of it. The recognition of what they had had the ability to become and their failure to actualize their potential generated powerful feelings of humiliation.

Similarly, the Jews in the wilderness never measured themselves against the levels reached by Moshe. They viewed the pious family into which he was born and the elevated soul with which he was blessed as bestowing upon him opportunities for greatness that they could never fathom. Yehoshua, on the other hand, was neither the wisest nor the greatest of the generation. Rashi explains (27:16) that Yehoshua was chosen on the basis of his devoted service to Moshe throughout the 40 years in the desert. Upon recognizing this, the Jews became aware of the levels which could be reached when a person who had been just like them utilized his talents to their fullest. It was this humiliation that the Jews experienced upon the inauguration of Yehoshua as Moshe’s successor.

The lesson for us is that because each of us was born into our own unique family and life circumstances, we needn’t worry that we will be compared to the levels reached by others, whose lots in life afforded them natural advantages. However, we must look ourselves in the mirror daily and question, “Am I utilizing all of my talents and abilities to become the best me that I am capable of?”

Parashah Q & A

Q: Which book of Tanach was co-authored by Pinchas?

Q: How was Serach related to Asher?


A: The Gemara teaches that Yehoshua authored the book of Yehoshua until the verse which records his death (Yehoshua 24:29), at which point Elazar became the author until the verse recording his death (Yehoshua 24:33), and the remainder of the book was completed by Pinchas.

A: The Ramban quotes the Targum Onkelos, who writes that Serach was the daughter of Asher’s wife from another man. The Ramban explains that although Asher had sons who inherited his possessions, his wife had no sons, and as a result, Serach inherited her mother’s belongings, including her portion in the land of Israel. This explains why she is mentioned here together with those who inherited shares in the land (26:53), similar to the inclusion of the daughters of Tzelafchad (26:33) in this list for the same reason. This opinion is supported by the fact that the Torah doesn’t write “and the daughter of Asher was Serach” — as it does in other verses, but rather, “and the name of Asher’s daughter was Serach” — alluding to the fact that Serach became known as “the daughter of Asher” because he raised her as his daughter, although in reality she was not his biological child. However, the Daas Zekeinim and Chizkuni argue that if Serach’s father was one of Yaakov’s other children, she should be mentioned as his offspring, and if her father wasn’t one of the other children, she shouldn’t be included in a list of Yaakov’s descendants. They explain that the Torah’s unusual expression emphasizing her name reflects the fact that her name was well-known due to her pious reputation. It should be noted that the version of the Targum Onkelos which we have does not say that Serach was the daughter of Asher’s wife.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email