With just two more parshiot following Vayeilech, we’re nearing the end of the yearly Torah reading cycle. As the Torah draws to a close, we could expect the narrative to be tying up loose ends and resolving some of the questions we’ve had throughout the year. But that’s not how it works out in reality. The Torah isn’t a simple story; a chronological history of a chosen people that ends when the book of Devarim/Deuteronomy does. Instead, this week’s parsha begins a new cycle of events. Moshe announces his soon approaching death, he and Elohim encourage and charge Yehoshua and Elohim warns them of Israel’s future waywardness.
So Israel hasn’t gotten the specifics figured out? After 40 years of hard lessons, they’re still going to stray after foreign gods and forsake their Redeemer? With Moshe nearing the end of his life, who will lead them the rest of the way into the land and defeat their enemies? The answer is just whom we might expect.
Moses summoned Joshua and said to him before the eyes of Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall come with this people to the Land that HaShem swore to their forefathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. HaShem – it is He Who goes before you; He will be with you; He will not release you nor will He forsake you; do not be afraid and do not be dismayed.”Deuteronomy 31:7-8, Stone Edition Chumash
I was a bit surprised when I saw that Moshe simply indicated that Yehoshua would “come with” the people into the Land. Did he not trust his successor’s abilities? Did Moshe doubt his capacity to lead an entire nation of disgruntled nomads? I don’t believe that’s what he implied at all. In the verses prior the text makes it very clear who will be defeating the enemies. HaShem will go before them. HaShem will to their enemies as He did to Sihon and Og. He, alone, will deliver them. True, the man leading might have changed but not the God who makes victory possible.
Last week’s portion was Nitzavim which implies standing still. This week deals with going forward. There are times when a leader must stand before Elohim for instruction and to establish himself and there are times where they need to move forward. In each case, though they lead a people, they always follow God as 31:8 states: “…HaShem – it is He Who goes before you…” It is never really the individual’s own actions that clear a path for his people to walk, but his ability to carry out the instructions received from above.
He commanded Joshua son of Nun, and said, “Be strong and be courageous, for you shall bring the Children of Israel to the Land that I have sworn to them, and I shall be with you.”Deuteronomy 31:23
It is only with His permission and His authority do we have any authority to lead. We can read this sentence to say: “Because I have promised to bring them to the Land, I have chosen you to carry out my charge. If you adhere to My Words, this will be possible because I will be going before you.” With this in mind the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes the following statement:
“For this same reason, we should never feel incapable of fulfilling our Divine mission. The same G-d who refuses to leave us alone, always prodding us to join Him in perfecting the world, stands at our side to assist us in our efforts to transform the world into His home.”Sichot Kodesh 5732, vol 1, p. 9.
Moshe never implied that Yehoshua wasn’t able to bring his beloved nation into the Land, he was making a point to say that despite his role as a leader, he had to be one of the people first. If he had not joined himself to Elohim in a Covenant of Promise first, he would be unable to accomplish the tasks before him. This was the thing that solidified their bond with one another; they were all equal in their share of the rich promises that were given to their forefathers before them. If Yehoshua would “stand” with them first, he would accomplish everything their King called him to do. The privilege to lead is a gift and a responsibility with expectations. May we always remember that His ways get the job done.