Parashat Vayelekh

Models Of Leadership

Moshe and God each instruct Joshua according to the different models of leadership each embodies.

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Provided by the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, a summer seminar in Israel that aims to create a multi-denominational cadre of young Jewish leaders.

The parashah we read this week, Vayelekh, takes place during the last days of Moses's life. The entire book of Deuteronomy has been a kind of summing up for Moses, and with this parsha we approach the end, in which he speaks his last words to the Jewish people and appoints Joshua to take over as leader of the nation. It is in connection with this latter task, that of naming Joshua as his successor, that Moses and God seem to have a little disagreement. Moses, when addressing Joshua, says the following:

"…be strong, and brave, for you will go with this nation into the land which God promised to their fathers to give to them …" (Deuteronomy, 31,7).

A few verses later, God says almost the same thing to him:

"…be strong, and brave, for you will bring the children of Israel to the land which I promised to them, and I will be with you" (ibid, verse 23).

See the difference? Moses places Joshua with the people; he "will go with this nation" into the Promised Land. God, on the other hand, singles Joshua out as the one who "will bring the children of Israel" into the Land of Israel. He is not with the people, as Moses has it, he is leading them. In fact, in God's formulation, Joshua is with Him--God--and no one else.

Difference in Speeches

The Rabbis in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 8a), notice the difference between these two speeches and explain it this way:

Moses, when charging Joshua with the role of leader, emphasized that he will not be alone, but will be entering the land "with" the people. This refers to the fact that Joshua will not be the only leader of the nation, but, rather, will be able to rely on the advice and counsel of the elders, who represent the entire nation and will help him lead them.

God, on the other hand, explained things very differently to Joshua. He stresses that Joshua will be alone in bringing the people into the Land. If necessary, he will need to force them to do his, and God's, will--"hit them over their heads"--as the Rabbis put it, as he stands alone as the leader of his sometimes difficult-to-lead generation.

How are we to understand this difference of opinion between God and Moses? Why does Moses present a model of rule by consensus, in which Joshua is part of a large group of wise men who, together, lead the people, whereas God presents Joshua with a much more autocratic model, in which he, alone, with only God at his side, often at odds with the very people he is meant to lead, is responsible to get the Jewish people to do the right thing and take possession of the Land of Israel?

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.