INTRODUCTION TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA
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The Making of a Leader
by Rav Alex Israel
said to Moses, 'ascend Mt. Avarim and view the land that I have given to the
Israelite people. After you see it, you will be gathered to your people.... '
spoke to the Lord, saying, 'Let the Lord, source of the spirit of all flesh,
appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in
before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, that the Lord's
community not be like sheep that have no shepherd.' And the Lord answered Moses,
'Take Yehoshua son of Nun, an inspired man, and lay your hand upon him. Have him
stand before Elazar the priest and before the whole community and commission him
in their sight. Invest him with some of your aura so that the Israelite
community may obey. But he shall stand before Elazar the priest, who shall on
his behalf seek the decision of the Urim before the Lord. By such means shall
they go out and by such means shall they come in, he and all the Israelites, the
whole community. Moses did as the Lord had commanded him. He took Joshua and had
him stand before Elazar the priest and before the whole community. He laid his
hands upon him and commissioned him - as the Lord had spoken through Moses."
passage, God issues a fearful, spine-chilling invitation to Moses. He commands him to ascend the
mountain which borders Eretz Yisrael so that he may be "gathered" to his people. He is really informing Moses of his
Moses react to this news? Moses
responds here in the manner of the quintessential leader. He reacts selflessly,
concerned solely with communal matters, worrying as to the fate of his nation
even after his own death. His only
concern is that there should be a figure of stature who will guide the nation
ably and carefully. Moses asks God to choose his own successor.
return to Moses later in this article, but for now let us focus upon the central
issue of our chosen text. These
verses revolve around the complex question of leadership. What is the essence of a suitable
leader for Am Yisrael? What talents must he have? And does the leader have
absolute control or is there a certain governmental system? Clearly, our parasha
leaves us with certain clues. The
traits which identify Moses' successor as outlined by Moses and God in our
selection, will provide the key to understanding the essential qualities of a
in particular invite our investigation:
1. Why does
Moses refer to God with the adjectival phrase "Lord, source of the spirit of all
flesh." What aspect of God does this phrase highlight?
defines his concept of a leader by talking of a person, "who shall go out before
them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in."
What does this phrase refer to and what type of leader is Moses thinking of when
he uses the phrase?
3. What is
Moses transferring to Joshua by placing his hands upon him? The text makes a
reference to this act as investing Joshua "with some of your aura." Others
translate the Hebrew word "Hod" as "authority," or "splendor." What precisely is
being transferred from Moses to Joshua?
OF THE SPIRIT OF ALL FLESH
word "ruach" - usually translated as "spirit" or simply "wind" - comes up in two
contexts within our story. The first
relates to God. The second relates
to Joshua. God is addressed by Moses
as, "The Lord of spirit of all flesh." As for Joshua, when God reveals his
appointment, He says "Take Joshua, a man who has spirit within him." With this simple word connection, we
can establish a parallel vision where a certain characteristic of God is
reflected in a quality of Joshua and it is this which makes him deserving of the
before God, 'You know full well the minds of every one of your children and you
know that no person is the same as another. When I depart from them, I request
that you appoint a person who will tolerate every one of them in their
individual uniqueness.'" (Midrash
explains God's title as the source "of the spirit of all flesh" as meaning that
He knows the inner workings of all humans.
He created us and He understands all the complexity of human psychology:
the diversity in temperament, personality and ideology that exists amongst
human-kind. According to the
Midrash, Moses is addressing God with this particular title because he feels
that the next leader will need this God-like trait. National leadership needs an
individual who, like God, understands people.
A leader must be able to relate to all the diversity that constitutes
humanity, with all their peculiarities and idiosyncrasies: extreme and moderate,
honest and fraudulent, aggressive and calm, tolerant and intolerant. And indeed, Joshua is the person. He is a man with this "spirit" within
(Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin - Ha-Emek Davar commentary) offers a different
interpretation. He interprets the
phrase "spirit of all flesh" like this (16:22):
comparable to flesh in that they both follow one's self-interested desires..."
Moses prays to God in this way, he is expressing man's whimsical attraction to
that which satisfy his urges, be they physical or more ephemeral. God clearly is the contrast to this -
"The rock, His deeds are perfect, all His ways are just, true and upright is He"
(Deut 32:4). God is a "rock," unswayed by selfish motives. But how is this relevant to the
leadership issues that we have raised? The Netziv answers (27:18):
Man Of Spirit: HIS spirit. i.e. He is independently minded and not swayed or
diverted by self-centered desires or other pressures."
people have a "spirit" - a consciousness - which is in some way controlled by
"flesh" - self-indulgent desires. Joshua, on the other hand has a
self-sufficient "spirit." He is a principled, resolute individual. He will not be swayed by the crowds.
So we have
two approaches here. The Midrash
sees Joshua's "spirit" as his empathy, his tolerance, his "people touch," his
sensitivity. The Netziv sees
Joshua's strength as his resolute independence of mind (a trait which he clearly
demonstrated in the "spies" episode).
It is this ability to stand above the buffeting pressures of national
government which singles Joshua out for the leadership position.
Maybe it is
appropriate to note at this point that the choice of Joshua is not exactly a
surprise. Joshua has been the
faithful assistant to Moses since the earliest days of the wilderness sojourn. However, it might be instrumental to
compare the rise of the two personalities of the younger generation who are both
mentioned in our parasha: Pinchas and Joshua.
The comparison is enlightening because in many ways they are a study of
Joshua has a
well documented personal history. It
was Joshua who was selected to lead the battle against Amalek; he has a military
background. He was one of the twelve
spies who toured the Promised Land, Joshua belonging to the minority who
returned with a positive view of the Land.
From here we can testify to Joshua's first hand experience of the Land of
Israel (his first role as leader will be to conquer it,) and his personal
fortitude. However, maybe even more
important, we should view Joshua as Moses' apprentice. Ever since the days of Mt. Sinai, we
read how "Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir from the tent." He was always at Moses' side. It was
he who waited for Moses for forty days and nights when he ascended Mt. Sinai to
receive the tablets of stone. He was
always assisting Moses and studying with him.
He knows the strains and pressures of the leadership position. He knows well the phenomenon of
prophecy. He was the natural successor.
the other hand, was never appointed.
He rose to the public eye as a result of a single heroic event. Pinchas was not
on the leadership track. He simply
saw an awful situation which prompted him to take immediate spontaneous action. He is the passionate intuitive man of
the moment. But he is impetuous,
unpredictable, and he acts as a loner.
that Israel needs is the deliberate well-trained leadership of Joshua rather
than the somewhat instinctive leadership qualities of Pinchas. Maybe this also demonstrates the
maturation of Israel as a nation.
Their first leader - Moses - was inexperienced at the outset. Now, forty years later, they have the
benefit of experience on their side.
Joshua has the appropriate talents and the requisite experience to take the
immense responsibility of the nation on his shoulders.
IN AND OUT
his concept of a leader by talking of a person, "who shall go out before them
and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in." What does this cryptic phrase refer
With a simple
cross-reference to the book of Samuel, we can see that these phrases refer to
the act of waging war:
... We want a king... and he will GO OUT BEFORE US and fight our wars" (I Samuel
Saul was king over us, it was you who led Israel in war (lit. led Israel to GO
OUT, and COME IN.)" (II Samuel 5:2)
Why is this
trait singled out by Moses? Because
a war leader is the primary need of the nation at this historical juncture. After all, the most significant
challenge facing the fresh, untried leader is the imposing task of the
conquest of Canaan. This project is
a campaign of massive military proportions.
For Moses to seek a military man is most appropriate. If the military
reading is the correct interpretation of the words here, then Rashi's comment is
"WHO WILL GO
OUT BEFORE THEM: Rather than the gentile kings who stay behind... sending their
soldiers ahead to war... (the Jewish war leader) leads them to war at the head
of his troops and returns at their head."
interesting, however, to note that God "adjusts" Moses' request somewhat. Moses' talks of a leader who will
"lead them out and bring them back."
God tells Moses that Joshua "shall stand before Elazar the priest... by his word
shall they go out and by his word shall they come in." (v.21). God is telling
Moses that Joshua must consult with the High Priest, Elazar before taking the
nation to war. (The High Priest is to consult God via the prophetic tool of the
"Urim.") Why do we need this detail
here? Because apparently God is
changing the current status quo.
Moses as leader was the ultimate civil AND religious leader. He was the prophet extraordinaire and
the supreme leader. He never needed
to consult with Aaron the High Priest for he was his superior. Moses took his
issues directly to God. But leaders
of the future will not necessarily be bestowed with both leadership skills and
spiritual excellence. Now a new
system - a system for a post-Moses world - is being set up. The king must take advice from a
higher authority before he takes the nation into war. Indeed, even after the prophetic
powers ended, the halakha still reflected this innovation to the law:
cannot take his people out to a non-defensive war without the approval of the
High Court of seventy-one scholars." (Maimonides, Mishna Torah, Laws of Kings
and Their Wars.)
to the law is rather fascinating and a very advanced ethical measure. Even the monarch, the Officer in
Chief of the army and the governor of the land, is restricted in his ability to
wage war, having to take it to a higher body for discussion and approval.
The act of a
person laying their hands upon another object and resting one's weight upon it
is known as "semikha." This action
is not restricted solely to our situation.
We find it in other circumstances as well.
For instance in the sacrificial rite (Lev. 1:4), when a person is
bringing a personal sacrifice, they rest their weight on the animal, as if to
transfer their own person, their personality, onto this animal.
Moses rests his hands upon Joshua. What exactly is being transferred from Moses
to Joshua? The Hebrew word used is
"Hod" meaning splendor, but what might that mean?
Maybe a clue
is the fact that this action is to be taken in a public ceremony. Why does this have to happen in front
of the community? But maybe this is
exactly our answer! Maybe what is
being transferred is not something tangible, nor something physical. Maybe the purpose of this ceremonial
act is to create some sort of impression in the eyes of the nation. This public symbol is the official
transferal of authority, Moses publicly expressing the fact that he supports
Joshua as leader. The message that
this simple act sends is more powerful than any words that Moses could express. In the words of Rabbeinu Bachya, God
said to Moses, "Honor him publicly in the presence of the entire nation."
PART II -
Thus far, we
have not focused upon Moses' role in this discussion, but it would be
inappropriate not to devote some attention to it.
Moses is invited to Har Ha-Avarim - the mountain of "passage" or
"transition." Moses is undergoing a
serious transition. He is about to
die. He is handing over his people
who he has shepherded for forty years to a new leader, a new land and an unknown
future. This pre-death period has to
be one of the most emotional, and fearful of his life.
So what does
he choose to say at this time? One
approach sees the entire dialogue between God and Moses as a calm, gentle,
caring interaction. God invites Moses to Har Ha-Avarim so that he may view the
land, as the Italian commentator, Shadal, states:
"He wanted to
show him the land so that he would see how close the people of Israel were to
their destination and that he will realize that his considerable efforts have
not been in vain."
demonstrates a sensitivity to Moses' feelings. Likewise, we can read Moses'
appeal to God as an expression of his heartfelt concerns, his care and worry. The request to God reads as a simple
plea: 'Please make sure that the flock which I shepherded for so long have
another shepherd to lead them after I am gone.'
In this reading, Moses reflects his altruistic humility. He could have much to be angry about. He could jump on the bandwagon of his
personal agenda, but he does not. He
turns his attention to the issues that matter in a mood of optimism,
selflessness and dignity.
Midrashic scholars peel back the layers of the text and reveal a strong textual
undercurrent that reveals a more strident tone in Moses' words. We begin with the "narrator's"
introduction to Moses' appeal to God.
If we read attentively we notice something familiar about the
spoke to the Lord, saying..."(27:15).
used here are carefully chosen to correspond to the linguistic phraseology that
is customarily used to preface a command from God to Moses. "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying"
is the normal usage of this phrase.
Here the thrust is reversed. Is this
simply a coincidental overlap of phraseology or is the text trying to express
Moses' command-like stance before God.
We might suggest that the Torah is presenting this speech of Moses less
as a request or a plea but, rather as a command - a demand! Moses is boldly
issuing God with a command.
But what is
the nature of this command?
context there is one Midrashic insight (brought in Midrash Rabba) which is so
sharp that it is impossible to overlook.
It reads the verses here with an entirely fresh angle, reading Moses'
appeal to God with a rather defiant, bitter and resentful tone. Let us read the comment:
APPOINT. A parable: A king once noticed an orphan girl and wished to take her
hand in marriage. He sent messengers with a proposal of marriage but she
refused. 'I am not worthy of royalty,' she said. He sent proposal after proposal
- seven times! - she not initiating a thing, and in the end she conceded to
marry him. After some time, he became angry with her and wanted to divorce her.
'I never wished to marry you,' she cried, 'you courted me! If you so desire to
divorce me and to take a different wife, do as you have decreed, but promise me
that you treat your next wife better than you have treated me.' This is like God
himself, the Holy one blessed be He. He implored Moses seven times to accept the
task of leading the nation, (Moses repeatedly refusing - see Exodus, Ch.3-4) ...
and now, later, he tells him 'You will not lead the people into the land.'
(Numbers 20:12) Moses said, 'Master of the Universe, I don't want to give up my
task... but since You have so decreed, promise me that You will not treat the
next leader in the way You have treated me; rather, that he will go forth before
them and come in before them.' (27:17)"
Up to this
point, we have assumed that we are dealing with the humble Moses who
altruistically places the communal agenda over and above his own personal
feelings. But this Midrash suggests
a certain resentment, maybe a more "human" side to Moses.
notes the repeated usage of the verb, "to come."
This is the verb used in God's decree to Moses that he be restricted from
the promised land and it is the same phrase that Moses uses here. The Midrash suggests that the great
Moses, although he will not attack God directly, will find a way to express his
hurt and pain at his own unfortunate situation.
begins the process of the preparations for settling the land of Israel. A census is performed with the
explicit aim of dividing up the Land of Israel (see 26:52-56). The daughters of
Tzelofchad realize that the settlement and division of Canaan is a reality and
hence claim their own portion in the land.
And in the passage that we have discussed, we see another symbol of the
wilderness taking a step back and the symbol of a new generation rising up. Moses, the leader of the wilderness
generation is preparing to step down and Joshua his student is appointed to take
that we have discussed here are relevant to the Biblical debate but equally so
to leadership issues today. In an era in which leaders are judged by the
photogenic looks and their sound-bite speeches, we remind ourselves of that
blend of personal integrity and practical applicability that the Torah looks for
in its leaders.