portion of Pinhas emphasizes different types of leadership – and especially the
necessary switch-over from the authoritative, majestic, scepter-staff leadership
of Moses to the very different, humanistic and democratic leadership of Joshua.
What we must therefore analyze is the difference between Moses’s leadership and
the leadership of Joshua – and why each was vitally necessary for its respective
generation of Israelites.
Such an analysis will also illumine why Moses
could not himself bring the Israelites into the Promised Land.
commands Moses to ascend the heights of Abarim (a peak of Mount Nebo) to view
the Promised Land below, and then to be gathered to his
This is because he had disobeyed God’s command “when the
eda [witness-community] was rebellious, when God was not sanctified by means of
the water before their eyes.” You will remember that Moses had struck the rock
(symbolizing the stubborn, hard-as-a-rock, stiff-necked nation) rather than
speaking to it as the prelude to the miraculous gushing out of life-giving water
from that very inanimate rock.
Moses, painfully aware that God is seeking
new leadership, defines what he believes to be the necessary qualities of his
successor: “May the Lord, God of the various spirits of all flesh, appoint a
person over the eda who will go out before them and come in before them
[empowering them to follow his lead] and who will take them out and bring them
in [caringly, lovingly nurture them], so that God’s witness-community shall not
be like a sheep without a shepherd.”
Rashi, commenting on the unique
phrase used by Moses to describe the Deity (“God of the various spirits of all
flesh”), explains: “The mind of each individual Israelite is clear and known to
You, and the various minds are all different. Appoint a leader over them who has
the capacity to be patient with each of them in accordance with his unique
mind-set and opinion.”
According to this interpretation, Moses is
requesting that the new leader be a man of the people who has the capacity to
listen to and respect the various opinions of the Israelites. He must take those
opinions seriously in formulating his policies.
It must be remembered
that Moses had assumed the leadership of a weakened and bedraggled slave people
under the thumb of a totalitarian tyrant, Pharaoh.
and de-humanizing policies against them had robbed them of any vestige of
self-confidence gleaned from their patriarchal traditions.
Moses came to
them – and had to come in such a fashion if it was to to succeed with them –
with the authoritative message of the Majesty of the Universe, the King of all
Kings, whose revelation of commandments, morality and freedom was more exalted
and enduring than the highest of Egypt’s pyramids.
Moses was also
temperamentally suited to this style of leadership. He had spent 60 years of
solitude in the desert of Midian, communing and meditating with God, speaking to
Him daily, “mouth to mouth,” and developing his spiritual and intellectual
Moses had become “heavy of speech,” involved in the legalism
of a jurisprudence dedicated to compassionate righteousness and moral justice,
inspired by the theology of a God of love, compassion and truth.
therefore, understandably lacked the patience required of a man of the people.
He did not engage in the small talk necessary to painstakingly convince each
individual of the truth of the Divine word. He did not have the marketing
salesmanship required to tailor God’s message so that it would be compatible
with the opinions of “600,000 prime ministers.” He was too close to God to have
the patience to convince the masses to accept the Divine word.
hard spiritual and intellectual work on himself had made him a man of God,
comfortable with wielding the scepter of the Divine in whose Name he spoke. He
was, however, impatient with the more interpersonal dialogue, the give-and-take
of political leadership.
And so Moses, who impatiently struck the
stiff-necked rock of the people he had liberated from Egyptian bondage, could not
lead them in the next phase of their development, when they would enter the
Promised Land as free people created in God’s image.
To be sure, only a
Moses could have succeeded in taking Israel out from under the thumb of Pharaoh;
and only a Moses could have gleaned from God His eternal words which would serve
Israel as their eternal Torah.
For this, Moses, the man of God, was
crucially and singularly necessary.
But now, as they return to their
land, armed with self-confidence and their constitution, the Torah, a new kind of
leader is necessary, one who will empower the nation to become God’s full
partners in directing their own destiny. Now a more democratic and sympathetic
leader of the people is required, a man “in whom resided the spirit of the
various spirits of all of the individuals of Israel.” Joshua ben-Nun is
necessary – a man who will assume the softer scepter of partnership-style
leadership, who will join the input and interpretation of the nation of Israel
to the eternal word of the Divine.The writer is the founder and
chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of
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