Parashat Vayelekh

Models Of Leadership

Moshe and God each instruct Joshua according to the different models of leadership each embodies.

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Well, the obvious difference between God and Moses is that one of them is a person and the other is an omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe. Each one of them, therefore, is speaking to Joshua about leadership from his particular point of view. Moses is presenting Joshua with a model for leadership that is human, and therefore social, communal, and consensual. In this model people do things together, as a society. The nation is represented by a group of elders, of whom Joshua is only one--first among equals perhaps, but an equal. Together, Joshua and the nation, represented by their elders, will work things out. Moses, as a human being, understands that this is the way humans are meant to function--with others, together, as a community.

God, on the other hand, has a very different perspective, one that He shares here with Joshua. This Divine perspective is more exalted, more absolute, and much lonelier. As God Himself must take ultimate responsibility for the people He has created and, in the case of the Jewish people, chosen, while being, by definition, not really very much like them, Joshua, as a leader, must also, ultimately, see himself as alone, responsible only to his duty to get the people to do the right thing, as defined by God. Unfettered by the compromises that a communal style of leadership demands, Joshua will be obedient only to the word of God and the vision that arises from that. As God says "…and I will be with you."

In this model of leadership, Joshua is "with" God, not the people. He is, in fact, called upon to be God-like, in that he must understand that the responsibility of leadership is, ultimately, a personal responsibility, his alone, and is not divisible by consensus or community.

The Divine Style of Leadership

As the Rabbis see it, this divine style of leadership is one that is immediately suggestive of an ultimately adversarial relationship--"hit them over their heads" to get them to do the right thing. It would seem that the 'otherness' of the people in the divine leadership model (or the 'otherness' of the leader from the people's perspective) makes this inevitable; conflict is bound to occur in a model which sees the leader as essentially separate from those he leads.

In the Talmud, these two models seem to be presented as being mutually exclusive; Moses understands Joshua's leadership one way and God disagrees with him. I would suggest that they can, and should, coexist. It is only when both these models--the very human need to work within a consensus, within a community, as well as the divine demand for absolute personal responsibility for and obedience to the goal--are present, that Joshua, or any leader, can really lead.

The point, it seems to me, is to be able to work with the people whom one is leading, while, at the same time, understanding that, ultimately, one bears complete and total personal responsibility to the goals and aims which one hopes to achieve. To adopt only Moses's model could lead to the very common situation of no one really taking responsibility, simply because it has been ceded to everyone. To adopt only God's model can, and in fact, historically, often has, lead to the tragedy of alienation, dictatorship and totalitarianism.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.