In this week’s parsha, PINCHAS, we see Moshe passing on the leadership of the Jewish people to his successor. Given that the Torah portion is named after Pinchas, it would seem to make sense to think that the next leader is Pinchas. But that is not the case. Even though we may admire the passion and zeal of a Pinchas, we know that those qualities are not sufficient to make someone a leader. So, instead, Moses confers smicha on Joshua.
We’ve seen Joshua before—in the story of the Golden Calf, he’s the one who points out to Moses that the crowd seems to be riled up. We know that he was also one of the 12 spies, and he is one of the two to have the faith that the Israelites can conquer the land. Midrash also tells us that Joshua learned Torah directly from Moshe. And something you may not know: our sages have said that the face of Moses was like the sun, but that the face of Joshua was like the moon.
Think about that. What is the difference between the sun and the moon?
One rabbi tells us that the sun is the heavenly body that lights up the entire universe, but the moon allows other heavenly bodies to shine. That’s a nice distinction when we think about the differences between Joshua and Moshe. Moshe is the leader who speaks directly with God; he is an almost overwhelming presence, and there’s a lot of evidence that that aspect of his personality kept him separate from the Jewish people, even from his own family.
But Joshua is like the moon. Joshua lets others shine. He allows others to step forward and share in the glory. Moshe, as a brilliant leader and strategist, must have realized that the Jewish people needed a different kind of leader. It was time for the Israelites to be in their promised land, and to take more responsibility for their own actions. They have lived with Moshe and one miracle after another. The time has come for them to experience a new kind of leadership and a new phase in their history. The true leader is the one who can share leadership, and in so doing, can help others also become leaders. Like the moon in the sky, a true leader does not dominate but is able to delegate and share the glory. The Jewish people, with Joshua at the helm, will have to grow up. They are entering a new phase of maturity, leaving behind miracles and a direct connection to God. This is the phase we continue to find ourselves in. It remains our challenge to find and sustain a connection with God.