Devarim - weekly Torah portion

The Israelites have walked an incredible distance in the desert and now are on the brink of entering Eretz Israel. Moses who has led them until that point is going to step down from history’s stage and there is someone there ready to replace him. Moses, in his farewell speech, says that he has made a last minute effort, “I also pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, ‘O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Yours? Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.” Even this heartbreaking please does not change the verdict. Moses who has toiled over this, sparing no effort, receives what can only be described as a cold shoulder that completely ignores his feelings, “Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter.”

Moses goes to the mountain of Nebo

It does not finish there. Moses also receives a blunt order, “charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him, for he shall go across at the head of this people, and he will give them as an inheritance the land which you will see.” It is time for a change in leadership and no leader can avoid it, even a great leader as Moses was. He is ordered to do it in a way that is difficult for any human being – he must transfer the throne of leadership to another person and know that this person is the one who is going to complete the task for which he has thrived for all his life. He will also not know if it was ever a success story.

I believe that there is a double lesson for us from this transition of leadership. The first lesson is of the importance of cultivating and training the next generation of leaders that can replace the current leadership when the time comes. The second lesson is that it is equally important to know when that time has actually arrived. Transition too early or to late may be highly problematic. Obviously the current leadership has more experience and more knowledge about the business of leadership then the next generation of leaders. It also suffers from fixation and the burdens of experience and memory. Different times offer opportunities for different kinds of leadership, one that can challenge itself in new and unorthodox ways, those which many times well entrenched leaders may not consider or feel comfortable doing.

I would like to suggest that there is another challenge that has to do with us being human and unable to see in the other the similarity to us. He or she may have abilities, ideas and plans, he may wish to change and she can actually make it happen. Unfortunately many times we are unable to see how similar we really are. My daughter, Nava, wrote on her wall on Facebook a few days ago: “I tool out the earphones and stopped running for a moment in one of the most religious neighborhoods of Netanya to take a sip of water. A young Haredi man walks by me and asks were a certain place was located. I give him the direction but he stops and listens to the soft music pouring out of my earphones and asks me curiously what music I am listening to. I told him that towards the end of my training I listen to ‘Slow’ by Grouplove, just to challenge myself. He smiles at me and says. ‘I knew it! It’s on my playlist and I just finished listening to it! What’s the chance of that happening?!’ He then continues walking with a smile of satisfaction on his face. It always surprises me that how I automatically think that I have nothing in common with people who look so different from me, and then I find that there is.”

It is this commonality between people, between the current leaders to those of the future that we must identify. If it was possible to find some common ground between Nava and that Haredi youngster, maybe a more in depth investigation would have found many more things in common. This is the reason that our Reform leadership is committed to find opportunities for meetings, comprises, ways to build bridges, not only between us who agree with each other, that is kind of easy, but also with those who have different opinions, even those who oppose us. Those whom we challenge and who challenge us in return. In his opening remarks Moses says, “Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him.” The term used in Hebrew is actually brother, not countrymen, but it clearly speaks to the fact that the meaning of brother is broad and does not extend only to an immediate family relationship. It extends all the way to the alien, the foreigner, who is an integral part of the land. Today, with all the harsh and escalating debate we are experiencing from the government of the State of Israel and its religious establishment, it is easy to shut ourselves from listening, forget that these are our brothers and sisters, we can simply retire to experience the bitter insults and incitement. I can understand that, however, this is not the role of leaders and it is our responsibility, despite the difficulty, to tirelessly and continuously, find solutions to the problems we are facing, and never despair. We must dismantle each and every mine that some may attempt to lay on our paths and build a common place. In the spirit of the days that lead to Tishaa BeAv we search for what is common and that which is inclusive, the fixing, the Tikkun, of a destroyed Temple.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 6 Av 5777, 28 July 2017

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