Ingredients of Jewish Leadership

Ingredients of Jewish Leadership

A good leader needs to have a compass in his head and a bar of steel in his heart. -Robert Townsend

Leadership and the struggles around it are an ongoing theme in the Torah. Whether it’s the leadership of a family or of the nation, the Torah reveals to us, the good, the bad and the ugly of those who seek power and those who ultimately wield power.

One of my favorite phrases in the entire Torah is from the parting words of Moses to his disciple Joshua (and subsequently repeated by God to Joshua). Moses is about to die and Joshua has been appointed to lead the stiff-necked people of Israel into the Promised Land and to conquer the entrenched Canaanite nations. Moses tells him “Chazak Veematz” which can be translated as “be strong and courageous,” or as Rabbi Hirsch translates it “be steadfast and strong.”

Rabbi Hirsch on Deuteronomy 31:7 explains that the ideal Jewish leadership is predicated on a steadfast commitment to the Torah and a resolute determination to enact the principles of the Torah in our lives. In his own words:

“‘Be steadfast and strong;’ this is interpreted in Berakhoth 32b (Babylonian Talmud) as follows: “Be steadfast in keeping the Torah and strong in good deeds”; remain steadfast in looking to the Torah for an understanding of your tasks, and be strong in overcoming any obstacles to the fulfillment of these tasks. Be steadfast in adhering to your principles and be strong in carrying them out: these are the most important qualities required of a leader.”

The Torah is the rulebook of the Jewish people. In order to provide leadership to the Jewish people one must be not only familiar with the rulebook, but embrace it, internalize it and live it, despite the constant struggle and challenges of performing what it asks of us “with all our hearts and all souls.”

May we each be leaders in our own homes and communities.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the candidates of Zehut for their leadership and dedication.


Infinite Willpower

Infinite Willpower

People do not lack strength; they lack will.  -Victor Hugo

neo_spoonThe Talmud states that everything is in the hands of God except for the fear of God. This is translated to mean that we have free will. God controls everything in the world, every atom, every molecule, every action, every consequence. There is only one tiny corner of existence over which God does not exercise His Omnipotence. That is over our capacity to decide. We are born with the innate possibility to choose between good and evil. We have the human gift of electing to do the right thing or not to do the right thing.

The Sfat Emet in 5634 (1874) elaborates further on the topic. He mentions that we cannot accomplish anything without divine support. However, what we bring to the mix, the extent of our efforts, is that we need to bring our own “will” or “desire” to the table, along with what he calls an “awakening”. Presumably he is referring to some inner spiritual impetus, some realization of what we need to do, of what the right decision and subsequent action needs to be.

He expands even more and states that when we submit our “will/desire” and “awakening” for public benefit, there is nothing that God likes more.  He cherishes when we use our will, our faculties, our resources for public good. The probability of success is enhanced when we depart from selfish motivations and look out for a greater good.

May we harness our unlimited willpower for good.

Shabbat Shalom and Chatima Tova,



To the leadership of Macabi Tzair for so seriously bringing Torah into their Latin American conference.

Afterlife Conversations

Baal Haturim Deuteromony: Vayelech

Afterlife Conversations

We talk about heaven being so far away. It is within speaking distance to those who belong there. Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. -Dwight L. Moody


For good reason, there is great uncertainty about the afterlife. I have yet to meet someone who has been there and back, who could give a personal account of what it was like. Some doubt its existence as there is no scientific proof. Others may believe in various Hollywood versions, inspired in part from classical poets like Dante and Milton.

The Jewish tradition has much to say about the next world. What’s its purpose, who gets there and who doesn’t, what do we do there, how long we’re there for, and much more.

The Baal Haturim points out an interesting capability we will retain in the afterlife. In his commentary on Deuteronomy 31:1, he cites a conversation between Moses and the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), whereby Moses informs them that God has fulfilled his centuries-old promise to them, that their descendents, the Children of Israel, have finally inherited the Land of Israel. The Baal Haturim explains that the above account is the source that the dead talk to each other in the next world.

May our patriarchs and ancestors have good things to say about us, especially as we approach the Day of Judgement.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova,



To the Chazan, Shaul Hochberger, on his divine conversations leading our prayers.

Instant Repentance

Ohr Hachayim Deuteronomy: Vayelech

 Instant Repentance

 “Any man worth his salt will stick up for what he believes right, but it takes a slightly better man to acknowledge instantly and without reservation that he is in error.” -General Peyton C. March

We are a generation obsessed with instant gratification. Instant coffee, instant noodles, instant camera, instant messenger, instant relationships. If you can think of it, you can demand it and expect it, instantly.

[There rest of this Torah Insight is at]

The Fiery Baton

Deuteronomy Fiction: Vayelech


The Fiery Baton

The northern wind howled outside the tent. The tent sat in the middle of the camp on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. The clouds that had surrounded and protected the Israelites for forty years were gone. They disappeared months ago, following the death of Aaron, the High Priest. The raw wind and hot sand scoured the pink soft skin of the Israelite tribesmen.

Moses and Joshua were alone as usual, silent in the tent. Moses, standing upright, eyes closed, was in a deep trance yet conscious of his surroundings. He was in the midst of his communion with God. Joshua stood near the tent entrance.

Was it resignation Joshua saw on the face of Moses? At one hundred and twenty years old, Joshua’s master was still a physically impressive presence. His aura was overwhelming. Joshua had served him with unyielding dedication for forty years. He had learned to interpret the minutest facial expressions to get an insight into his master’s thoughts.

No. It wasn’t resignation; it was a sad determination. Moses intended to fulfill God’s will to the last instruction, fully aware of all the disappointments and failures of the last forty years.

“It is you.” Moses opened his eyes and with an indecipherable face turned to Joshua. “You shall lead them into Canaan.”

“I am honored, my master,” Joshua bowed. “But perhaps there are others more qualified?”

“It is your destiny.” Moses smiled as if remembering an old tale.

“But what about Elazar or Pinhas? They are of your family and already priests of God.”

“No,” Moses said and slashed the air with his hand. “Priesthood and kingship can never be shared. It is a disastrous combination.” Moses closed his eyes with a pained look.

“What about Caleb? Caleb has the blood of kings in his veins. He is a natural leader and a master strategist. He would be excellent.”

“Caleb is a great man,” Moses nodded, “and he will be of immense value to you, but it is you Joshua, you and only you who will lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.”

“I have always been your assistant. How can I now lead?”

“Enough!” Moses roared. “You would deny God’s wishes in this?”

“I serve and obey.” Joshua’s body shook for a moment as he bowed again to Moses.

“I know your fear and your hesitancy. I resisted this burden more determinedly than you. But you must be strong and valiant. God has chosen you by name and He shall be with you as He has been with me.”

“Am I not right to fear?” Joshua asked. “I have been next to you through all the travails. The battle with Amalek, where you were barely able to stand on your own. I was with you when the burden of leadership was so heavy you begged for death. I was with you at each rebellion, when God repeatedly desired to wipe us out. And it was only you, my master, you who stood up to the Almighty. You who spoke with God face to face as no mortal has and no mortal will. How can I hope to take your mantle? To take this fiery baton from you.”

“Just as God helped me defeat Og and Sichon, so will He help you defeat the kings of Canaan. Just as we have set out tribal allotments for Reuven, Gad and Menashe on the east of the Jordan, so will you succeed in allotting the rest of the tribes in Canaan.”

“But you are able to speak with God. I am not.”

“The era of Instruction shall indeed end with me. But you will begin the epoch of Prophecy.”

“God shall speak to me?”

“When He needs to.”

“What if I fail?”

“Success and failure are in the hands of God. We can only strive. Strive with all our might, but the striving does not ensure success. You will do a good job, Joshua.” Moses closed his eyes. “I see you defeating the Canaanite kings and setting the borders of the tribes. There will remain pockets of resistance. The whole land will not be conquered in your day. No, that will only occur long in the future. But the Children of Israel shall follow God all the days of your life.”

“You comfort me, my teacher.”

“Let me do more than comfort you. Let me show you. Take my arm.”

Joshua clasped the right forearm of Moses. Moses’ hand wrapped around Joshua’s forearm. They both closed their eyes.

Joshua saw images flash across his closed eyelids. The walls of a fortified city tumbling down. Giants slain by Caleb. An entire platoon of soldiers abandoning a fortified city and caught by an Israelite ambush. King after king and city after city falling to the Israelite onslaught. The lords of Canaan fell before the Israelite tribes like wheat under the scythe.

Moses let go of Joshua’s forearm. Their eyelids fluttered open.

“You will do well, Joshua. Remain strong and valiant and you will succeed. Are you ready?” Moses asked, looking deep within Joshua’s eyes for a hint of any weakness, any hesitancy; any clue that Joshua was less than God’s new chosen leader.

But Joshua’s eyes reflected the steely resolve that Moses knew was there all along.

“I am ready.”

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Deuteronomy Chapter 31


1 And Moses went and spoke these words unto all Israel. 2 And he said unto them: ‘I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in; and the Lord hath said unto me: Thou shalt not go over this Jordan. 3 The Lord thy God, He will go over before thee; He will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt dispossess them; and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the Lord hath spoken. 4 And the Lord will do unto them as He did to Sihon and to Og, the kings of the Amorites, and unto their land; whom He destroyed. 5 And the Lord will deliver them up before you, and ye shall do unto them according unto all the commandment which I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them; for the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.’ 7 And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel: ‘Be strong and of good courage; for thou shalt go with this people into the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. 8 And the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee; fear not, neither be dismayed.’


Joshua’s resistance and hesitancy to the appointment mirrors that of Moses himself and God’s anger in the beginning of Exodus.

The objection of Moses against handing leadership to priests relates to that eventual occurrence in the Hasmonean dynasty where the priestly line also took over kingship with disastrous results.

Caleb is of the Judean royal tribe and we do see more of him down the line.