A Time of Transition

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In the Jewish community, we are in a season of transitions. For many organizations, the programming year runs through June, which means that new boards and presidents are leading institutions across the country. Several of our local synagogues welcome new clergy to lead them in these quieter weeks of summer. On behalf of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, welcome to town!

With new leadership comes the consideration of how departing leadership “hands off” the metaphoric (and often literal) keys. This is an old story, going back to our Torah portion this  Shabbat, Pinchas.

Moses, informed again that he will not enter the Land  together with the people he has led these wilderness-wandering years, prays to God for Divine selection of his successor. “Let the Lord, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community … so that the Lord’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.” Indeed, God has a successor in mind, one that has been “interning” with Moses: Joshua, son of Nun.

Joshua was among those sent to scout the Land towards the beginning of the journey, and together with Caleb was among those who recognized the challenge it would be to enter the Land, and that with God’s help and support, anything could be done. For this reason, these two are the only members of the Exodus generation who will enter the Land of Israel. And, keeping with the division of responsibilities, Moses is instructed that Joshua’s leadership will be tied directly to that of Eleazar the high priest who has taken over after the death of his father, Aaron. This seems to be a clear indication to the people that power will not be consolidated in only one individual, but will continue to be shared.

Of interest here seems to be the method by which Moses assigns some of his authority to Joshua in this moment of the transition. God instructs Moses: “Single out Joshua son of Nun, an inspired man, and lay your hand upon him … invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey.” The transmission happens in public, and it is physical.  Commentators point out that Moses goes a step further, placing both hands on Joshua — leading to the tradition of rabbinic ordination. The powerful statement made to the community, the confidence of seeing the respected leader invest their successor with their authority and, most  importantly, full support, paints a vivid scene of the healthiest leadership  transition.

The Talmud holds up this verse as proof of the maxim that “a person may be jealous of anyone, except their child or their student.” This transition clearly brought  satisfaction to our teacher Moses.

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