Knowing One's Place, Knowing One's Time
Several midrashim deal with Moses' reluctance to turn leadership over to Joshua.
Your Midrash Navigator
1. Why does God allow Moses to try to be Joshua's student?
2. Is it possible that Moses would be allowed to live if he could tolerate his new status?
3. Why did God remove wisdom from Moses?
4. Can wisdom be removed from one and given to another? What does this mean to you?
5. What makes Moses accept his fate?
Now we have a different midrash which views Moses as actively paving the way for his successor.
Sifre Devarim, Netzavim, Vayelech
“God said to Moses, Take for yourself Joshua Ben Nun..." (Number 27:18) A man such as you. The word "take" is used, for a friend is acquired through taking through the greatest of hardships. Thus it was stated in Avot of Rebbe Natan: A person should acquire a friend to eat with, to sleep with and reveal all secrets to him. Thus it is written: "A three stranded thread will not unravel quickly." (Ecclesiastes 4:9)
The Holy Spirit responded to Moses: Give a spokesman to Moses, and let him ask questions, interpret verses and give rulings while you are still alive, so that when you die Israel will not say to him, "When your teacher was alive you did not speak, and NOW you speak!!.
There are those who say, that Moses lifted Joshua up and placed him on his lap, and Moses and Israel together would lift their heads to hear the sound of Joshua's words. What would [Joshua] say, "Blessed be the Lord who gave the Torah to Israel through the hands of Moses our teacher," and these are the words of Joshua.
Your Midrash Navigator
1. Compare the two midrashim. Do they contradict or complement each other?
2. If you see the two midrashim as two different stages in Moses's development, does this change your opinion?
3. The Midrash already acknowledges that Moses has asked for a successor way before the beginning of Deuteronomy. How do you understand that Moses is still arguing to go across the Jordan?
4. Can one lead when one's predecessor is still active within the community?
Moses has been told that Israel will certainly revert to their old ways because of his absence. Even though Joshua is encouraged to take heart, there is an understanding that moral leadership under Joshua will not be the same.
Moses doesn't understand why it is more important for him to depart than to supply the moral leadership that is essential for Israel not to go astray. It is as if the Holy One says, sooner or later, ready or not, there comes a time when a people must assume responsibility for its own behavior. Even though I expect Israel to fail the test, and I will now dictate a poem that will show my future hiding is a result of their moral decline,
Your place Moses is on this side of the Jordan. They will rely on you no more.
One cannot blame one's own failings on the absence of moral leadership. Vicarious pride in the righteous among us says little of our own achievements. Ultimately, the place to look for moral failings is from within.
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