Moses’ Strength

He, whose eyes had seen

The brilliance of the Burning Bush

The grandeur of Egyptian scene

Within the Pharaoh’s palace courts-

He, whose eyes had seen

Of forty years of wilderness,

And the scope of world as seen

From Mount Sinai’s holiness-

He, whose eyes had seen

The pasture hills of Midian,

These eyes, vision undimmed, now span

The wonder of G-d’s Promised Land!

And in his eyes, the tears of joy-

And on his lips,

And on his lips,

A prayer.[1]

Lucille Frenkel, “The Destination: Comment on Deuteronomy XXXIV Lines 1 Thru 4”

Does a leader need to be strong? Physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally strong? What are the qualities under which a leader can continue to lead and when is the time for him/her to “hang up the gloves?”

Questions such as these come to light when we examine Moses at the beginning of Parshat VaYelekh. Moses told Israel “I am one hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no longer go out and come in (לא אוכל עוד לצאת ולבוא), for  G-d has said to me, ‘You shall not cross this Jordan.”[2] There is an apparent contradiction when we look ahead to Parshat VeZot HaBracha, where it states “His eye was not dimmed and his freshness did not fade” (לא כהתה עינו ולא נס לחה).[3] Rashi asserts that it simply means that Moses was not permitted to enter Israel, for G-d removed authority from him and transferred it to Joshua.[4] Ephraim of Luntshitz (Kli Yakar) takes Rashi one step further, asserting that Moses was concerned that Israel would take him literally and see him as physically weak. Therefore, he walked briskly before Israel, the entire length and width of their encampment, so that Israel would understand “not able” (לא אוכל) as “not permitted” ((לא רשאי.[5] This jives with the title of the second portion we read being וילך, indicating that Moses walked out to the Israelites.

Or HaChaim takes Kli Yakar’s comment one step further, stating that Moses purposefully went out before all of Israel, asserting that if he was permitted to serve Israel he would this very day. It is not on his account that he is leaving Israel but rather on account of G-d’s command for him not to cross over.[6] We know from Parshat VaEtchanan that Moses entreated G-d to enter Israel; now he is resigned to the fact that he will not accompany his people when they enter the land.

Why such a great emphasis from the commentators on Moses’ physical strength? After all, we know of so many leaders who might not be the strongest physically but who have hearts of steel, fighting for their life’s work at all costs. At the same time, we know of people who lose their leadership position when the vigor and strength that they put into it wanes. The goal here was to show that despite all the roadblocks and challenges that Israel put in Moses’ path, his belief in Hashem and faith in leading Israel remained unabated and he would lead them as long as he was able. This is the very message he tells Joshua three times in VaYelekh, חזק ואמץ, be strong and resolute no matter which challenges you encounter.

We are so fortunate today to be installing our new congregational board, the leaders of our congregation. These are the individuals who have a fiduciary responsibility towards the welfare of our congregation. They have volunteered for this position, giving of their time, their talents and their energy to strengthen the Jericho Jewish Center. Each Board Member needs to be strong in every way: physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally, as they encounter numerous challenges. At the same time, they must be resolute in knowing that their actions are making a difference and that their leadership is invaluable to the success of our congregation.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, let us think about how we can have the strength of both Moshe Rabeinu and of the members of our synagogue Board of Trustees, continuing to have faith in who we are and what we stand for and maintaining unabated vigor in the leadership roles that we occupy in life. When our faith is tested, may we have the strength and the resolve to continue forward.  Let us learn from Moses that it is never too late to lead, even at 120 years of age-all we need is to be ready and willing to embrace the task at hand.

[1] Lucille Frenkel, “The Destination-Comment on Deuteronomy XXIV Lines 1 Thru 4” in A Biblical Adventure (Milwaukee, WI: The Eternity Press, 1980), p. 135.

[2] Deuteronomy 31:2

[3] Deuteronomy 34:7

[4] Rashi on Deuteronomy 31:2 ד”ה לא אוכל עוד לצאת ולבא

[5] Kli Yakar on Deuteronomy 31:2 ד”ה וילך משה וידבר את הדברים האלה

[6] Or HaChaim on Deuteronomy 31:2 ד”ה וה אמר אלי

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