Parashat Vayeilech - 5780

Two Minutes of Torah with Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky

God said to Moses, “The time is drawing near for you to die. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the Tent of Meeting, that I may instruct him. Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the Tent of Meeting.”

—Deuteronomy 31:14

Leadership transitions are complicated, as we see in this week’s Torah portion, Vayelech. Moses knows his life is ending and he will not lead the Israelites into the Land of Israel. Joshua will take up the mantle of leadership. However, before Joshua can lead, Moses needs to be able to step aside.

Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893), also known as the Netziv, in his Torah commentary Haamek Davar, compared the Israelites’ change in leadership to the daily cycle of the sun setting and the moon rising:

Just as the moon only shines when the sun is about to set, similarly, Yehoshua was unable to shine while Moshe’s light was still shining strongly… Once Moshe’s light began to set, Yehoshua’s light began to shine. This is what the verse means, “Your time is approaching to die,” and therefore it is the right time for you to place your spirit onto Yehoshua.

The setting sun has a beauty all its own, painting the sky with its last rays of light, allowing the moon to glow. Rather than attempt to “outshine” each other, Moses and Joshua model a peaceful and timely transition of power. No one can lead forever and there comes a time in every community, every organization, every country, when the power dynamic shifts and a new leader steps into place.

Historically the transfer of secular government power has at times imperiled Jewish diaspora communities. American Jews are blessed to live in a country that has always prided itself on mastering peaceful leadership transitions, living the example set by Moses and Joshua.