Says Rashi: “When Moses heard that the Almighty said to him, ‘Give the inheritance of Tzelofchad to his daughters’, he said to himself, ‘The time has come that I should ask something that I want – that my sons should inherit my high position’.
“God said to him, ‘It is not this that I have in mind; it is Joshua who deserves the position as a result of his ministrations’… This is what Solomon said, ‘He who tends the fig tree shall eat its fruit’ (Prov. 27:18).”
Without rancour Moses now said to HaShem, “May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation… so the flock of the Lord shall not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Num. 27:16-17).
However, there appears to be something strange in this discussion. The K’tav Sofer remarks, “Surely it was already known that a son inherits from his father? And what connection is there between inheriting leadership and inheriting an estate?”
Rashi had already remarked (on verse 5) that Moses might have thought the ordinary rules of inheritance did not apply to him. In any case, did Moses not realise that his sons were prone to error and may have compromised their right to inherit?
Maybe he thought they had repented of their lapses and returned to God’s favour, but God pointed out that Joshua was better qualified and more consistent in his devotion.
Leadership requires special qualities. To be the leader is not a question of handling a monetary legacy but bringing a people to be what God wanted of them.