Passing on the Leadership
Numbers 27:12-23: “And G-d said to Moses, Go up to this Mt. Avarim and see the land that I have given to the Children of Israel.” So begins a moving dialogue between G-d and Moses towards the end of Moses’ life. Everything that happens in the remaining chapters of Numbers and all of Deuteronomy actually takes place in the last year of the Israelites’ stay in the desert, just prior to their entry into the Land of Israel. And, with this verse, G-d instructs Moses as to the last days of his own life. Like Aaron, G-d will guide Moses up a mountain and there he will die. But, prior to his death, Moses will be able to see the entire Land of Israel spread before him, a land that he yearns to enter but G-d prevents him from doing so.
The actual occurrence of this event is recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 34. Moses ascends Mt. Nebo, on the Avarim, and is able to see, miraculously, the entire land of Israel.
But what is most interesting in this section of Numbers is not G-d’s instruction to Moses, but Moses’ response to G-d. He does not argue with G-d nor plea for his life. Instead, his first concern is the continued leadership of the Children of Israel. With this reaction, Moses proves to be the essential leader, a man whose very essence has become his concern and sense of responsibility for the nation, above and beyond his own selfish concerns for his life and death.
Moses asks G-d to appoint a man “who may go out before them, and who may go in before them, and who may lead them out and may bring them in” a shepherd for the flock that is the Children of Israel. And G-d instructs Moses to appoint Joshua to this job.
Note that it is not G-d who appoints Joshua, but Moses who does so, in accordance with G-d’s command. For Moses is, first and foremost a man, and his concern is for a man who will lead the nation. G-d clearly remains in charge and it is the function of the leader to heed G-d’s will in leading the nation. In fact, Moses’ charge to Joshua is: “Be strong and of good courage…And G-d is the One who will go before you, He will be with you, He will not fail you nor forsake you.” But it is Moses who encourages Joshua and who charges him with his mission: “You must go with this people to the land which G-d has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it.” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)
It is amazing how G-d is often used as a crutch by people who try to evade responsibility. We can sit back and let things run their own course, they will often say, for G-d is in charge. But Moses did not see things that way, and neither did G-d. Real, human leadership was needed for the Children of Israel and Joshua was going to have to lead his people into battle. Did that mean that G-d was not part of the plan? Of course not. But man needed to take responsibility, and the leaders needed to be responsible for the people and for guiding the people in the way that G-d intended.
Moses wanted to make sure that a worthy leader was appointed to replace him before he died. And that leader, Joshua, was the man who actually brought the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel. Our current leaders are no Moses and Joshua. But every week, on Shabbat in the synagogue, we pray to G-d to provide our leaders with wisdom and the guidance they need to make the right decisions. May our leaders have the wisdom and the faith that Joshua had, to do what is right for the nation of Israel and assist us in settling the Land of Israel, as G-d has commanded.
Sondra Oster Baras
Director, Israel Office