CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Rabbi David Walk
Here in the United States we are in the midst of the marathon campaign for president. It seems like the race for the presidency is longer than the actual terms served by the presidents. This process numbs our senses to the extent that we can't even think about the process. It's too exhausting. But we must. The concept of succession is too important to ignore. Every four years many usually skeptical pundits marvel at the awesome spectacle of the peaceful transfer of power in normally cynical Washington, DC. So, it's wonderful that our Torah expends so much space discussing this critical issue. In Genesis we have the handing over of the covenant from Avraham to Yitzchak and then from Yitzchak to Ya'akov. Two weeks ago we saw the transition from Aharon to Elazar, and this week we have the very short ceremony when Moshe hands over the keys of the kingdom to Yehoshua. This brings up the immediate question of why Yehoshua? However, we must intuit from this the ultimate question, which is: What are the essential attributes of great leadership? We'll muse about this issue in our present article.
According to the Ktav Sofer (R. Avraham Shmuel Binyamin ben Moshe Sofer , 1815-1871) there is a disappointment for Moshe in the process of the transition of power to Yehoshua. This melancholy exchange begins with God saying to Moshe, "you too will be gathered to your people, just as Aharon your brother was gathered (Numbers 27:13).' This interpretation explains that Moshe expected one of his sons to succeed him 'just as Aharon your brother.' But that wasn't to be. So, in what way was the death of Moshe like that of Aharon? It could be that he shared the peaceful demise referred to as 'the kiss of God." Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks suggests an important alternative. He posits that teachers are like parents. Being succeeded by a student provides the same satisfaction as being replaced by an offspring. Actually, the words horeh (parent) and moreh (teacher) are variations on the same root, and both are closely related to Torah. They all mean instruction and guidance of a profound and personal kind. Our Sages have noted this similarity when they observed that one is never jealous of either student or offspring. So, what was the difference between Gershom and Eliezar (Moshe's sons) and Yehoshua? We don't really know, but there is speculation that Yehoshua understood a major feature of Torah study which escaped Moshe's sons. Namely that Torah must be taught as well as learned. Yehoshua got intensely involved in the transmission of Torah. This provides us with our first major criterion for the succession of leadership: There should be an element of continuity.
Rav Elchanan Samet, writing on the excellent VBM (Virtual Beit Medrash) website of Yeshivat Har Etziyon, made a perceptive observation of a detail which I never noticed before and I will adapt (and adopt) it. There are many discussions about why God informs Moshe about his imminent demise here. Most authorities expected this notice to be given right before the actual death, as happened to Aharon. However, with Moshe a lot of stories and events transpire before he ascends Mount Nebo. Why the big gap in time and narrative? Rav Samet points out that these instructions follow closely upon the final census of the wilderness. This is important, because that's what shepherds do; they count the sheep at the end of their shift. Here's the point I never noticed: At the end of the census it says, 'Among these there was no man who had been included in the census of Moshe and Aharon when they counted the children of Israel in the Sinai desert. For the Lord had said to them, "They shall surely die in the desert," and no one was left of them but Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Yehoshua the son of Nun (26:64-65).' The last words of the chapter describing this final count contain the name of Yehoshua clearly foreshadowing his succession and his skill set. And here we have the next decisive factor for great leadership: There must be concern for every single member of the community.
There is another crucial idea which can be gleaned from the position of these instructions for Moshe to appoint Yehoshua. Right after this sad bit of information, we have the long and detailed list of the communal offerings in the holy Temple. The essence of this catalog is that these offerings of animals and produce are tamid or constant. The daily, weekly, monthly, and annual cycles of sacrifices never vary. This information is also guidance for leadership. Leadership must be constant and consistent. Fickle or unpredictable behavior is to be avoided at all costs. Leadership can never be seen as unreliable or erratic. When the great Sages of blessed memory arranged the weekly Torah readings, they had literary unity in mind. It's, therefore, no coincidence that our parsha begins with the story of Pinchas and his heroic act of zealotry, and ends with the regular and reliable behavior observed in the Temple service. We love the champion who stands up to an emergency and puts things right, but that's what we want from soldiers and police, not leaders. Here's our third standard for outstanding leadership: The leader must be steady and dependable.
There you have it, the major criteria for the great leadership exemplified by Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua are the continuity of the principles of Torah (or whatever applicable guiding code), the concern for every member of the community, and the consistency of a reliable hand at the helm. There are probably others traits, but these seem to be the outstanding factors outlined in the transfer of power from Moshe to Yehoshua. The long term success of any enterprise depends upon these principles. I hope that candidates emerge here in the US, who fit these standards. I pray that we find such individuals within the State of Israel and among the Jewish people.