Hashem chose Moshe to lead the Jewish people and to take them out of Egypt. In Exodus, the Torah shares various incidents about Moshe that clearly show us Moshe’s sterling character and what made him the quintessential leader. From studying those incidents, we can deduce that Moshe had the following qualities:
- A strong sense of justice
- The conviction to act
- Confidence in, and the strength to stand behind, his decisions
- Extreme sensitivity to the feelings of others and concern for their needs
- Always learning and growing
- Humility – Hashem testified that Moshe was the humblest man on earth
It is easy to see how each of these qualities is essential for good leadership. Without a strong sense of justice and a conviction to act, chaos would rule. Without confidence in his decisions and the strength of character to stand behind them to see them through, nothing good would ever happen. A leader who is insensitive to his constituents’ feelings will easily offend them, and if he is oblivious to their needs, he will not seek solutions to help them. If he is not a growing person, he will be unable to inspire others to grow, an essential quality of leadership. Humility will free him to see clearly what needs to be done, without encumbrance from his ego.
In this week’s portion, Pinchas, we learn how Moshe gracefully exited his leadership position. This too is an important lesson in leadership. When one is no longer suitable for the position, what is the proper way for one to remove himself? Moshe is the consummate teacher in this regard also.
Hashem told Moshe (Numbers 27:12,13):
(יב) וַיֹּאמֶר יְדֹוָד אֶל משֶׁה עֲלֵה אֶל הַר הָעֲבָרִים הַזֶּה וּרְאֵה אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
(יג) וְרָאִיתָה אֹתָהּ וְנֶאֱסַפְתָּ אֶל עַמֶּיךָ גַּם אָתָּה כַּאֲשֶׁר נֶאֱסַף אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ
12)Hashem said to Moshe, “Go up to this mountain of Abarim and see the Land that I have given to Bnai Yisrael. You shall see it and shall be gathered unto your people; you, too, as Aaron your brother was gathered in.
Yet Moshe didn’t fulfill this commandment until the last day of his life. So why did Hashem tell him about this now?
Rashi explains that this came as a result of events in the previous chapter, the story of Tzlofchad’s daughters. Tzlofchad from the tribe of Menashe passed away leaving five daughters. Moshe was about to apportion the Land of Israel among the twelve tribes, and the daughters were concerned that because their father had no sons, they would receive nothing. They approached Moshe and asked if they, as daughters, could inherit their father’s portion since there are no sons. Not knowing the answer, Moshe asked Hashem, Who replied in the affirmative that, yes, they should inherit their father’s share.
This incident prompted Moshe to begin thinking about who would inherit his position. He hoped perhaps that one of his two sons would, but Hashem told him that his sons were unsuitable for the job and that his student, Yehoshua, would assume the leadership role of the Jewish people.
How did Moshe respond to Hashem’s choice of a leader? The Torah reports (Numbers 27:16) that
Moshe said to Hashem,
(טז) יִפְקֹד יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקי הָרוּחֹת לְכָל בָּשָׂר אִישׁ עַל הָעֵדָה
- “May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly.
What is the meaning of the words “G-d of the spirits of all flesh”?
אלקי הרוחות – למה נאמר? אמר לפניו רבש”ע גלוי וידוע לפניך דעתו של כל אחד ואחד ואינן דומין זה לזה מנה עליהם מנהיג שיהא סובל כל אחד ואחד לפי דעתו:
Moshe said to Hashem, “Master of the Universe, You know the mind of every person and that they differ one from the other. Appoint a leader who will be able to cater to the needs of each individual.”
Moshe felt that the most important calling of a leader is to cater to the needs of each individual according to that person’s way of thinking. Rashi points out that Moshe didn’t think about himself at this time; his only concern was that the Jewish people have a proper leader, one who would have the patience and understanding to deal with each person’s unique character.
But what about Yehoshua? Why did Moshe make this request of Hashem even after Hashem told him that Yehoshua would be the next leader?
The Torah teaches us about Yehoshua (Exodus 33:11):
וּמְשָׁרֲתוֹ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן נַעַר לֹא יָמִישׁ מִתּוֹךְ הָאֹהֶל
11) And his servant Yehoshua the son of Nun, a lad, would not depart from within the tent (the bet midrash- Torah study hall).
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Numbers 27:776) explains that Hashem told Moshe,
אתה יודע שהרבה שרתך יהושע והרבה חלק לך כבוד והוא היה משכים ומעריב בבית הועד שלך לסדר הספסלין ופורס את המחצלאות הוא יטול שררות
You know that Joshua served you greatly, and that he gave you tremendous honor. He would wake up early and go to sleep late to set up the benches and put the tablecloths on the tables in your study hall. He will take over for you.
Of course, Moshe knew that Yehoshua was his faithful and loyal servant and that he accompanied him everywhere to learn from him, but does that qualify him to be the next leader? Wouldn’t a leader need to demonstrate strong leadership qualities rather than “following” qualities? Someone that stayed cooped up in the Bet Midrash all day doesn’t sound like the right person for the job of leading the toughest of all nations, the Jewish nation!
To this Hashem answered (vss 18, 20):
(יח) וַיֹּאמֶר יְדֹוָד אֶל משֶׁה קַח לְךָ אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ בּוֹ וְסָמַכְתָּ אֶת יָדְךָ עָלָיו:
(כ) וְנָתַתָּה מֵהוֹדְךָ עָלָיו לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
18) Hashem said to Moshe, “Take to yourself Yehoshua son on Nun, a man in whom there is spirit, and lean your hand upon him. 20) You shall place some of your majesty upon him so that the entire assembly of the Bnai Yisroel will pay heed.”
In these verses Hashem explained to Moshe why Yehoshua was most suitable leadership. (1) He is a man in whom there is spirit, and (2) you will place some of your majesty upon him. Understanding these two factors will reveal why Yehoshua will succeed.
(1) אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ בּוֹ – He is a man in whom there is spirit
Rashi explains that Yehoshua does have the depth of character and ability to understand the spirits of the nation’s different personages. He satisfies your request for someone who will cater to each person according to his nature.
Yehoshua demonstrated his strong and elevated spirit in yet another way. Yehoshua was Moshe’s apprentice and he set up the chairs and tables in the Bet Midrash. The Midrash relates that people called Yehoshua a fool for doing this, his looking like the janitor more than the student! But Yehoshua was undaunted. His love for Torah and his respect for Moshe, the fount of Torah, gave him the fortitude to ignore the negative opinions and overcome any feelings of inferiority. On the contrary, Yehoshua demonstrated that he was willing to do anything for the Torah, even be considered a fool. This is the quality of a leader, one who stays the course even at the cost of being called a name or looking undignified.
The Mishna in Pirkei Avot asks, “Who is wise? One who learns from every person!” The commentaries explain that this means that a wise man is one who loves wisdom, and, as such, will learn it from anyone, anywhere. He is positioned to become wise because he is on a mission to learn wisdom and finds it everywhere. This epitomized Yehoshua, one who was prepared to do anything to have wisdom.
The Talmud (Brachot 47b) teaches us a counterintuitive lesson:
What is the definition of an ignoramus (one devoid of Torah)?
אפילו קרא ושנה, ולא שמש תלמידי חכמים, הרי זה עם הארץ
Even one who has learned much of the Written and Oral Torah, but has not apprenticed himself to a Sage, is considered an ignoramus.
Why would someone who has learned so much Torah be considered an ignoramus just because he didn’t apprentice himself to a master? He knows the information cold and can answer a question from any part of the Torah, Written or Oral!
Our Sages are teaching us a very important lesson here. The Torah is not a body of information requiring memorization. The Torah is a way of life, and the Torah’s laws and customs create a holy and moral framework within which a Jew lives. It is not the isolated information that defines Judaism; what is important is how one incorporates those laws into his everyday life to live a holy, upstanding moral life. So, even if a person knows all the information but hasn’t seen it in action and doesn’t know how to apply it to life, he has no grasp of what Hashem wants from us.
It is comparable to a person who wishes to be a surgeon and studied and knows how to do every procedure, but never set foot into an operating room to observe a surgeon perform a surgery. He is obviously missing a very important part of his surgical training.
By observing Moshe so closely for so many years, Yehoshua was the most suited to follow Moshe as a leader. He observed countless times how the laws and morals of the Torah were to be applied to everyday life.
(2) : וְסָמַכְתָּ אֶת יָדְךָ עָלָיו וְנָתַתָּה מֵהוֹדְךָ עָלָיו- And you will lean your hand on him, and you shall place some of your majesty upon him.
The second reason why Yehoshua will succeed and be the best leader for the Jewish people is because you, Moshe, will lean your hand upon him to impart your holiness and trust to him and thus bestow upon him some of your majesty. This was an easy job for Moshe because Yehoshua was his beloved student who never left his side. Who would Moshe want to transfer his majesty to more than Yehoshua who always positioned himself to accept Moshe’s wisdom? Indeed, we find that even though Hashem said “your hand,” Moshe placed both his hands on Yehoshua. Our Sages learn from this that Moshe gave Yehoshua the blessing בעין טובה with “a good eye,” which means that Moshe wanted Yehoshua to have everything that Moshe had. Some people want to be the only ones to have something so they can claim uniqueness, but someone with a “good eye” is someone who wishes that everyone had all the blessing that he has.
This is the source of the concept of a Torah scholar receiving rabbinic ordination- סמיכה (semicha) – before he is permitted to serve as a rabbi for a Jewish community. Indeed, originally, only one who received semicha from someone who received semicha, all the way back to Moshe, was considered an official rabbi.
Maimonides writes (Laws of Sanhedrin 4:1):
אחד בית דין הגדול ואחד סנהדרין קטנה או בית דין של שלשה צריך שיהיה אחד מהן סמוך מפי הסמוך ומשה רבינו סמך יהושע ביד שנאמר ויסמוך את ידיו עליו ויצוהו וכן השבעים זקנים משה רבינו סמכם ושרתה עליהן שכינה ואותן הזקנים סמכו לאחרים ואחרים לאחרים ונמצאו הסמוכין איש מפי איש עד בית דינו של יהושע ועד בית דינו של משה רבינו
The high court, a lower court, and even a court of three judges must have one judge who had semicha from someone who had semicha from Moshe. Moshe gave semicha to Yehoshua… and the 70 elders also received semicha from Moshe, and Hashem’s holiness rested upon them, and those elders gave semicha to others and those gave to others such that all semicha was sourced from Moshe.
Unfortunately, the chain of semicha back to Moshe was broken during the exile, and although, even today, a person must receive semicha before he is considered an official rabbi, it no longer is sourced in Moshe.
Notice how Maimonides says that as a result of Moshe giving semicha to the 70 elders, Hashem’s presence dwelled upon them. This was the same with Yehoshua, even more so. This extra boost from Moshe also vested Yehoshua with extra holiness so he could be the best leader.
In Yehoshua’s case, Moshe actually placed his hands on Yehoshua’s head; but in all other semichas, this was not the case. Rather, the master would tell the newly ordained rabbi, “Go forth, you are authorized to render decisions on behalf of the Jewish people.” The word “semicha” means to lean on, and when Moshe put his hands on Yehoshua’s head, he also leaned his full weight on Yehoshua. This was symbolic of the transfer of leadership from Moshe to Yehoshua. Moshe was telling him, “I am depending (leaning) on you and I am putting my full trust in you that you will carry forward faithfully what I have taught you.” This is also the idea behind all semicha, and why the process is necessary. A teacher must be very discriminate and ordain only a student that he feels will faithfully carry forward the authentic Torah as it was taught to Moshe on Sinai.
When we teach others, our students, or our children, we must convey this same lesson. We are putting all of our trust and our future in you, and we are depending on you to carry it forward faithfully to the next generation. This act alone can empower them to be successful in their mission.
Although Moshe gave Yehoshua more than Hashem had directed (two hands instead of one), he could not give him everything that he had. The Talmud (Bava Batra 75a) says:
זקנים שבאותו הדור אמרו פני משה כפני חמה פני יהושע כפני לבנה
The Elders of that generation said, “Moshe’s face is like the sun, and Yehoshua’s face is like the moon.” The difference between the sun and the moon is obvious. The sun is a self-sufficient source of light, whereas the moon has no light of its own at all. Its light comes from the sun. In the same sense, Moshe had all his Torah from Hashem and was an independent source of Torah. Yehoshua, on the other hand, had his Torah only from Moshe.
Another difference between the sun and the moon is that the sun is always full. The moon, on the other hand, starts out as nothing, steadily growing greater every day until it becomes full. Similarly, Moshe received all of his Torah at one time form Hashem on Sinai, whereas Yehoshua had to learn it a little at a time until he had learned it all.
Considering this, it is hard to imagine how Yehoshua felt in taking over leadership of the Jewish people from a teacher such as Moshe. How could he fill such large shoes? Moshe was like the sun, so many times greater than the moon! Moshe heard the Torah directly from Hashem and knew it all! How would he measure up? Indeed, we find that Moshe twice gave Yehoshua a blessing of encouragement.
In Deuteronomy (31:7&23), Moshe tells Yehoshua,
וַיְצַו אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן וַיֹּאמֶר חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ
23) And Moshe commanded Yehashua son of Nun saying, “Be strong and courageous!”
Perhaps the trust that Moshe put into Yehoshua and the blessing that he bestowed upon him gave Yehoshua the fortitude and confidence to carry on. He was sure that in the merit of his great teacher, and in all that he invested in him, he would have to succeed. When we place our complete trust and confidence in our children and students, we are providing them with that same empowerment, and are in effect giving them a most powerful tool through which they can succeed in their mission.