Moses is getting old. He knows he’s not heading into the Promised Land with the people he had led for all those decades. He’s lost his sister and his brother, and by now, anyone else who was there at Sinai has long since perished. That was how God wanted it – a brand new generation was to go into the new Land, one that hadn’t directly experienced the miracles of Egypt, the wandering or Sinai itself.
So. Time to pick a new leader, and Moses knew it. So, he did what he usually did when he saw a problem: he took it to God. “Let Adonai, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community, who shall go out before them and come in before them and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that Adonai’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.” (Num 27:15-17)
What does it mean to “go out before them and come in before them….”? The commentators say it means a military leader, and know enough to bring them (not send them) into battle, and lead them back home safely again.
The text continues. God chose Joshua, son of Nun, teling Moses to “lay your hand upon him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest, before the whole community, and commission him in their sight. Invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey.” (Num 26: 18-20)
Joshua may have been chosen by God, but he still had to come before the entire community. He had to get “cleared” by the Priest Eleazar, too. It was no longer enough for God to say so. That’s how Moses became the leader, but that wasn’t going to work from then on. Joshua was no Moses, and he knew it. So did the people. They needed a different kind of leadership from then on.
Still, he had to have a very public vetting, and he was now going to be working in conjunction with the Priest, unlike Moses, who pretty much worked alone. He had to have the public support, or the transition would never work.
Our Jewish community in Israel is in desperate need of new leadership. I know we’re still reeling from the horrific murders of Jewish and Arab teens over the last few weeks. I know we’re still getting news reports that turn out to be rumors, and it’s hard to separate out the truth. And yes, I know I’m not living where every day, rockets are pummeling where I live. My children are not in the army, but my nephews were. Still, for too long, one narrative, one drumbeat has been playing. Those claiming to have God’s ear, those holding up our painful past, those who need to hold on to their own real fears, and those leading from a place of fear of offending those telling the same past-stories, they’ve all been a part of how we got to where we are, murdering and burning children. But no more, not in my name.
Earlier in this week’s parasha, Pinchas, we read of the High Priest Pinchas who rushes out to where no one else will go, to avert a disaster. That’s what Priests do. They protect the people. What we need now are leaders, both religious and governmental, who are willing to go where no one else is going now, to avert a disaster. It’s time to hear the voices of other people, not just the voices in the echo chamber. The world-wide Jewish community has to be brave enough to ask for it, and support the Israeli voices that are trying to break through. Today’s leaders seem willing to send young people into battle, but it’s unclear to me that they’re wise enough to bring them home safely again, not for lack of desire, but lack of vision.