Parashat Pinhas

Who's Next? The Change And Challenge Of Leadership

The transition in leadership from Moses to Joshua provides us with a model for contemporary changes in leadership.

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God’s description of Joshua as “an inspired man” and the presidential qualifications stated in the Constitution are both vague. What are the advantages of such a lack of definition? What are its drawbacks?

Since the priesthood was an inherited position, Moses had reason to believe that one of his sons would become his successor, as envisioned in the midrash of Yalkut Shimoni. What do you think are some justifications for choosing an individual other than Moses’ son?

How does Moses’ description of the role of his successor, “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,” differ from the statement attributed to Lao-Tzu?

In your opinion, how does Moses fare according to Walter Lippman’s assessment of “the final test of a leader?”

D'var Torah

The Torah teaches, "Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses…" (Deuteronomy 34:10). His hands-on approach to leading the Israelites to the Promised Land as well as to teaching them what God expected of them is unparalleled by later biblical figures. In his brief prayer (Numbers 27:15–21), Moses demonstrates some of the qualities that made him a great leader: his faith, his understanding of the needs of the Israelites, and his concern for their well-being.

But Moses was so entrenched in who the Israelites had been and whence they had come that he may not have recognized the necessity for a new type of leadership. Moses spoke of the people as continuing to need a shepherd; God, however, knew that more was required for the people to enter the Promised Land. Thus, although Joshua would be Moses’ successor, he would not have the same tasks that Moses had been given. New leadership was necessary to accomplish a new objective. Nonetheless, it needed to be leadership that was also inspired by faith and concern.

Whenever there is a change in leadership, the transition is crucial. This vignette in the Torah presents one model for such a transition. However, every change in leadership--be it in the political, religious, or business arena--produces its own set of circumstances and needs. Our mission is to recognize this reality and to act accordingly. The Torah provides us with models and principles to guide us in that endeavor.

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Cantor Janice L. Roger

Janice L. Roger is the cantor at Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, Indianapolis, IN.