Daniel D. Stuhlman

Vayelech — New Leadership

Tanakh shelf. Photograph by Daniel D. Stuhlman July 2022
Tanakh shelf. Photograph by Daniel D. Stuhlman July 2022

Parashat Vayelech  and Shabbat Shuvah

The end of life for Moshe is only weeks away and he knows it.  He completes writing his personal Torah scroll and tells the people they have to read the Torah in public (31:7) every seven years. All of the people — men, women and children are supposed to hear the reading of the Torah.  This is a signal that education and knowledge of Torah are of primary importance. The rabbis divided the Torah into portions read every week so that the whole Torah was read in three years and later the cycle was made annual.

Moshe spent the last five weeks of his life explaining to the people the law and advising them to follow in God’s ways. New leadership was being readied.  Yehoshua was nervous and concerned as to how he was to fill the shoes of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe tells him Hazak v’amatz, (be strong and courageous Devarim 31:23), which is one of my favorite Biblical phrases. With strength in the soul and a display of courage to the outside world Yehoshua and the whole nation would be able to face the challenge of conquering the land of Israel and establishing a kingdom of God. Moshe reassured the people that all will be fine with Yehoshua, because he will have Divine assistance in his mission

The scroll of the Torah and body of law and tradition of the oral law are the keys to understanding the ways of the world and the Divine promise. Trust in God is part of our American society.  It is not a coincidence that elected officials are sworn in the office with a Bible and swear allegiance to the U.S. or state constitution. The Bible represents Divine laws, and the constitution represents the supreme secular authority. No human being, no matter how powerful, is above the law and constitution.

Five days after Yom Kippur, which is this Wednesday, is the holiday of Sukkot. The sukkah and the other holiday traditions demonstrate the concern one Jew must have for another. We begin by sharing our harvest (physical for farmers, symbolic for the rest of us). We issue special invitations called ushpizin, to our forefathers to emulate their acts of kindness and connect us to our origins. The four species represent several types of Jews and parts of our bodies. In our synagogue service we circle the bimah where the Torah is read both to respect the Torah, and what it means to us and the show we are united in our mission to have a circle or chain of tradition.

The Torah begins with creation and the message that man is created in the image of God. As Moshe, the one who actualized his Divine image more fully than anyone else, is preparing to exit his leadership role and exit this world, leaves us with the message that our ultimate task is to help others; materially, spiritually, enabling us to come together as a people.

The business lesson is that we have to prepare for succession to new leadership and for what happens when we are not there for the organization.

Discussion questions

  1. If you had a large sum of money that you had to assign to education, what would you do to insure the biggest bang for your bucks?
  2. What is the importance of insuring the leadership continues after the leader or president retires or dies?
  3. What is the connection between the first words of the haftorah (“Return O Israel to the ways of the Lord…”) and command to educate the people?
About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.
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