Leaving a job always brings with it a combination of excitement and sadness. On the one hand we look forward to the new opportunity which beckons us, excited about the challenges which lie ahead. However, at the same time there is often a sense of sadness to be leaving friends and colleagues behind; with the sense that there is still more work to be done.
In leaving there is also an awareness that the place will continue to function without you, and someone else (in all likelihood) will come in and do “your” job. It can be hard to accept that someone else will be taking your place (even when you are the one making the decision to leave).
In the background of this week’s Torah portion (and the rest of the book of Bamidbar) is the fact that a few chapters earlier God decreed that Moses would not lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12). As our people’s story continues we are therefore mindful of the fact that eventually there will be a need for Moses to be replaced as the leader of the community.
This week God says to Moses: ‘Ascend these heights of Abiram and view the land that I have given to the Israelite people. When you have seen it, you too shall be gathered to your kin, just as your brother Aaron was’ (Numbers 27:12-13). On the one hand we might be thinking at least Moses will get to see the land which the people will enter, but at the same time we may feel sorry that he will get so near, without ever being able to enter the land. As though responding to these concerns, God explains the decision: ‘For in the wilderness of Zin, when the community was contentious, you disobeyed My command to uphold my sanctity in their sight by means of the water’ (Numbers 27:14).
Moses did not complain to God; he did not challenge the decree or ask for forgiveness, instead he simply responded: ‘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’ (Numbers 27:16-17).
In that moment Moses demonstrated why God had chosen him to lead the Israelite community. Moses did not think about himself or his own destiny, his focus was solely on the people he would be leaving behind. His only concern was that someone should be chosen to replace him to ensure a smooth transition to the next leader, and the continued safety and security of the Israelite people. There was no sense of resentment towards the people or his eventual successor, Moses just wanted to make sure that there would be a shepherd to replace him.
Towards the end of his career, Moses once again demonstrated why he was God’s chosen leader for the chosen people. And he sets an example for us on how we might approach leaving, not worrying about ourselves or our legacy and instead focusing on the future without us. Moses’ final gift to the Israelites was to ensure that there was Joshua ready to replace him and lead the community into the Promised Land.
And if you want to listen to this Two Minutes of Torah: