Succession planning. It’s the mark of a real leader, and Moses is nothing if not a real leader. As Dr. Hal Lewis, President and CEO of Spertus Institute wrote, “Moses sets the standard for all those involved in Jewish communal life. Disappointed and scared as he surely must have been, Moses remained focused on the ultimate objective, getting the Israelites safely to the land of Israel.”
In this week’s parasha, Pinchas, Moses comes face to face with the fact that his leadership role is about to come to an end. “Moses spoke to Adonai, saying, ‘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 communitymay not be like sheep that have no shepherd.’” (Num 27:15-17)
God identifies Joshua as the next leader, telling Moses to have him “stand before the priest and before the whole community….invest him with your authority ….” (Num 27:19-20) The people had to know that Joshua wasn’t just appearing in the corner office, but that there was a reason Joshua was the next leader. In fact, just to be sure, Moses made sure Joshua presented himself to the priest who consulted with the Urim and Thumim. These were sort of instruments of divination that were inside the High Priest’s breastplate, and the priests consulted them to determine God’s will. That, plus Moses’ approval, would ensure that the people saw Joshua as the rightful successor, and that they would follow him into the Land.
Joshua was one of two people still alive from the community that was at Sinai. The other was Caleb, and they were the only two who lived long enough to enter the land. They had been the only two out of 12 who had gone out to survey the Promised Land. Most of the surveyors lost faith and told the people they’d never make it in the Land. Joshua and Caleb disagreed, saying that God was with them and they would be fine. Their reward was that they would live long enough to enter the Land, while the rest of the generation died out.
So, in front of everyone, Moses took Joshua and had him stand before the whole community, transferring the authority to him. We have no indication that Moses ever told the people he wasn’t going into the Land. I can’t even imagine what it took to stand before everyone, knowing on the inside that he would never get there, but his love of the people was greater than his ego.
Anyone who has created a start-up will tell you it takes a different kind of leadership to keep things going that it does to get things going. Few have both sets of skills. Each role is crucial in the life of the start-up, but it takes a rare leader who knows they can’t be the only one to take the enterprise to the next step. Yet every leader who has created something wants that special thing to carry on. And as Dr. Lewis writes, “In the end, his [Moses’] own personal quest, however lofty or honorable, paled in comparison to the long term viability of the nation of Israel.” Succession is part of good leadership. Whether it’s God or the individual who recognizes it, it’s vital for a true leader to know when to pass the torch.