The last days of Moses were poignant. He knew his life’s work would not result in his leading the people in their onward journey to the Promised Land. He brought them to the point at which his mission, his life’s purpose, could move forward to develop further without him, or not. He had a vision of this future, but he knew he would never reach it himself. We can almost feel his heaviness.
Do you remember the story of Avram, the young man on his epic journey? Lech-l’cha, God says to him. Not just “go” but “go for yourself”. In other words, have the courage to do this, knowing in your own heart it is the right thing to do. Well, here is another instance where God gives a similar kind of instruction, this time to Moses. In Numbers 27:18 God tells him “kach-l’cha” – not just “take” but “take for yourself”. This time he is referring to the appointment of Joshua, a man with spirit, to be his successor. Moses is instructed to lay his hand on him, giving him the first s’micha!! How did Moses know that Joshua would be the right person to take over?
There is a lovely Midrash – a rabbinic story – around our topic. It is in the book Sifré to D’varim. Rabbi Nathan said: Moses was saddened by the fact that one of his own sons had not been appointed leader. So the Holy One said to him: “Why are you saddened about this? Aren’t your brother Aaron’s sons like your own? The man [Joshua] whom I have appointed will still have to stand humbly at his door” (he being Aaron’s son El’azar, who was High Priest). So Moses gained strength from this and he called Joshua and said to him in front of all the people, “Be strong and of good courage”. And his advice? Don’t treat the people harshly. They are like children. Even God hasn’t dealt harshly with them. Be kind.
Among people who have worked all their lives with a purpose, there are many who haven’t found a willing or competent successor, and they worry until they can worry no more. Will their mission continue? Who knows! If it is a cause that has become real to people, then it will. I remember Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs, of blessed memory, quoting Victor Hugo: “Nothing?is as powerful as an?idea whose time has come.” Rabbi Jacobs pioneered non-fundamentalist traditional Judaism, Masorti, in this country and we are all, thankfully, part of its onward development. Its time was right and his leadership has led us all onward. Instead of one Joshua, many leaders have sprung up to continue the work.
We don’t always have the luxury of a Joshua, however hard we try to find one, but we must have courage and trust that something which is worthy of continuing after we have gone will, with God’s help, bear fruit. “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hivatel mimena” – “You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it” (Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot 2:21).
And be kind!
Jaclyn Chernett is the Chazan of Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue