Eyal Bitton
Cantor, composer, lyricist.

He Put His Hands Where and Did What?

Yes, that headline is meant to grab your attention. It’s called a “click-bait headline”. You see it all the time on Facebook. You see a post with the title “What Happens Next Will Blow Your Mind” or “When I Saw This, I Cried” and you really, really want to click on the link to find out more. My gut reaction is to click – or, at least, to want to click. But I fight the urge to click on the link because I know that what they want me to read is probably not that important.

I’m a cantor. I lead services in synagogues regularly. One thing I know that is no secret to any of you is that most members of the Jewish community are not in synagogue. Another non-secret is that most people are not reading the parasha (Torah portion) of the week. I’m not here to berate anyone but to give food for thought.

Imagine if we announced the contents of the Torah like we announced the news in social media? It would probably get a few more “clicks” than if we stuck to the traditional way of waiting for people to come to synagogue.

So why did I choose this particular headline?

Selection of Joshua

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinhas, God chooses a successor to Moses. God decides that Joshua Bin Nun will be the next leader of Israel. One would think that being selected by God is sufficient credibility for the people of Israel. But it isn’t – and God knows it isn’t. So Moses, acting on God’s instruction, does the following:

He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole community. He laid his hands upon him and commissioned him…

Numbers 27:22-23

Moses puts his hands on Joshua and declared him his successor. Why? Because God understood that the people had to see for themselves that Moses was willing to transfer his authority over to Joshua. Moses’ stamp of approval is crucial for the people of Israel to accept Joshua as their next leader.

Selection of Jeremiah

In the haftarah we read this Shabbat, the first haftarah of admonition leading up to Tisha B’Av, Jeremiah is chosen by God to be a prophet. Jeremiah describes his installation:

The Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: Herewith I put My words into your mouth.

Jeremiah 1:9

Again, the act of touching is what leads to someone’s accession to an esteemed position. A greater authority places his hands on an individual so that this person can be imbued with authority himself. Of course, it’s symbolic. But it is significant.

A legitimate authority is when it is gained through the agreement of a greater authority.

Transition at my Synagogue

The rabbi who has served at my synagogue (Beth Jacob Synagogue in Hamilton, Ontario) for the last nine years just left for another position (Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey). Before leaving, Rabbi Dan Selsberg made every effort to ensure that there will be a smooth transition between him and the incoming rabbi, Rabbi Hillel Lavery-Israeli. He made several appeals to the congregation to embrace his successor.

Why? Because he understood what we come across in this week’s Torah portion. He, in effect, laid his hands on the incoming rabbi, just as Moses did with Joshua or God did with Jeremiah, in order to invest him with his own authority.

Being endorsed is not just crucial to effective transitions but to any occasion where one gains a position of authority. The endorsement of a greater authority, be it an individual, entity, or institution validates the newer authority.

Click-Bait Headlines

So is this a good idea? Should rabbis and synagogues use this kind of click-bait headline?

Why not?

I generally don’t care for this sort of sensationalism. But, then again, I’m a synagogue-goer. With me, you’re preaching to the choir. But what about the ones who attend infrequently or who don’t attend at all? Isn’t an interesting headline worthwhile if it just might get them to read and learn more Torah?

Stay tuned for next week’s parasha:
“What This Man (Moses) Says Will Shock You!”

About the Author
Eyal Bitton is the cantor of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Oregon where he incorporates Sephardi/Moroccan music, Ashkenazi music, popular adaptations, and original compositions into the service. As a composer and writer, his theatrical works have been produced in the US, Canada, Kenya, and China.
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