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D'varim/Deuteronomy 10:11 Get up! Go to travel before the people; and let them enter and take possession of the land that I swore to their fathers to give to them.
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Moshe recounts that it was at the end of his second forty-day stint up the mountain withHaShem, when HaShem told him to to stir himself and lead the people forward. In parashat D'varim Moshe reminds the people that HaShem twice tells the people to get on the road: "You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Start out and make your way to the hill country of the Amorites ..." (D'varim 1:6-7, NJPS) and "You have been skirting this hill country long enough; now turn north" (2:3, NJPS). When the time comes to move, it is time to move. Stephen Sherwood suggests that "the key moment when the people break camp and leave Sinai, which is narrated in such detail in B'Midbar chapter ten, is here summarised in a single verse."1
HaShem's opening words, - both Qal ms imperatives of the roots , to arise, and , to walk, respectively, - echo His words at the end of Moshe's first forty-day session in the mountain. Then HaShem said, - also Qal ms imperatives of the roots , to arise, and , to go down or descend - "Hurry, go down from here at once ..." (9:12, NJPS). as He sent Moshe down to deal with the sin of the Golden Calf. Following the NJPS translation, "Up, resume ...", Jeffrey Tigay takes this as being the "final words of forgiveness" for the Calf, which we might take as an affirmation of Moshe's position of leadership over the people at that time. Certainly, RabbiHirsch sees it that way, paraphrasing Moshe's words to, "and I received the direction to lead you to the Promised Land, taking possession of which is now before you."
OvadiahSforno notices that the word - a ms noun from the root , to pluck up tent pegs, to break camp, so to travel or journey - also appears in the B'Midbar account of the way in which the camp moves. HaShem tells Moshe, "Have two silver trumpets made; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the community and to set the divisions in motion" (B'Midbar 10:2, NJPS). The Sforno says that, on this basis, " should be interpreted as , causing others to journey." When the trumpets are blown, this causes the people to break camp and start the next stage of their journey in the prescribed way.
With all that said, here's the single most important thing in what HaShem told Moshe: the people cannot take possession of the land that I have promised them until you lead them there. The ability of the people to actualise HaShem's promise is contingent upon Moshe's leadership. Until he gets on his feet and leads the people out, no-one is going anywhere. Ah, you may say, but what about the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night - won't the people know to break camp and move on because the pillar has moved away from the Tabernacle and is, so to speak, beckoning them to follow? The answer is 'no'; they may know it, but they won't do it. When the pillar moves off the Tabernacle, all eyes turn to Moshe: what will he say or do? Everyone waits for the signal from the silver trumpets, blown by a priest, to signal that they are to break camp; and the priest only blows the trumpet when Moshe tells him to blow. Grumble though they may, even the words of the people's grumbles show that they follow Moshe every step of the way: "And the people quarreled with Moshe ... 'Why have you brought the assembly of the L-RD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle?'" (B'Midbar 20:4, ESV).
Leadership is a fine art and requires many skills in teaching, cajoling, persuading, counselling, advising, directing, discerning, to name but a few. Leaders have to go first, be the early adopters and lead so that the people can follow; they have to blow the trumpet and summon the people to break camp. This applies in times of conflict or stress, in decision making, in strategy and planning. When Moshe asks HaShem to appoint a new leader for the people in his place, he puts it this way: a man "who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the L-RD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd" (27:17, ESV). The criteria for leadership of G-d's people also cover areas such as lifestyle, conduct and personal morality, as Rav Sha'ul writes to Timothy: "an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money" (1 Timothy 3:2-3, ESV). It is the correct operation of the leadership gifts that Yeshua gives - "apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Messiah" (Ephesians 4:11-12) - that enables us all to "attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of G-d, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah" (v. 13, ESV). Without that, there will be no growth, no maturity and no unity.
The prophets of Israel rail against the leaders - the shepherds - who have misled Israel, whose priorities have been for themselves and not for HaShem's people. Speaking before the Babylonian exile, Jeremiah voices, "'Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!' declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for My people: 'You have scattered My flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them'" (Jeremiah 23:1-2, ESV). During the exile, Ezekiel cries out for HaShem, "Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them" (Ezekiel 34:2-4, ESV).
Yeshua recognised that the Israelite leadership in His day was inadequate. On one occasion, after crossing the Kinneret in a boat, He arrived to find a huge crowd waiting for Him "and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things" (Mark 6:34, ESV). He responded to the people's need for a leader by teaching them and - later - feeding them, before sending them home full both spiritually and physically! He enabled the people to see and experience the promises of G-d. Later, in Jerusalem, He denotes Himself as the Good Shepherd, a messianic title spoken by the prophets (see, for example, Isaiah 40:11 and Ezekiel 34:23) and describes the characteristics of such a leader: "the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11, ESV). He also identifies "the leader as one who serves" (Luke 22:26, ESV), while warning the disciples that "false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect" (Mark 13:22, ESV). They are not leaders, but thieves and robbers who have come "only to steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10, ESV); they do not enable the sheep to possess their land.
So as we look around us today, who are our leaders and are they leading us in the way that Yeshua did? Are your leaders leading from the front, going first and calling you to follow? Are they setting you an example by their lifestyle, faithfully serving their own families while selflessly serving the people whom G-d has given them? Or are they passively sitting on their hands and simply telling you what to do while doing something else for themselves? Asking the question in a different way: are the people of G-d moving forward in these days, or is everyone sitting around and waiting for the leader to go first? In the book "Sacred Strategies",2 looking at how synagogues can transform from being functional to being visionary, the authors note that the success of a new vision, strategy or initiative is almost invariably dependent upon the active involvement of the senior leader. With his (even occasional) attendance or involvement, the members will consistently show up and participate, sensing his approval and leadership. The leader's participation enables the members to inherit their promise. Without his attendance, even though the strategy or initiative has been approved, despite the fervour of the initial advocates, the members sense instead his disapproval and lack of commitment and the initiative usually fails.
If you are a leader, how are you leading your people? Do you lead from the front and by example? Do you prepare the way, test the ground and then call the people to follow you, or do you plan and strategise, telling others to actually go and do the work? It is not that appropriate planning isn't necessary, or that people don't sometimes need to be told to stop sitting on their hands and show a bit of action. It is instead that because you are the leader, people follow you and if you don't lead, they won't follow - they will sit and watch you to see what they should be doing next. Of course you can't do everything; but some visible participation is essential to enable the people to fulfil their vision and calling.
Yeshua is, of course, our leader. He leads us in everything by His Spirit within us; He participates in everything we do as Rav Sha'ul writes: "It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20, ESV). It is He who enables us to fulfill His plan and purpose for our lives, who provides the resources and the strength we need to accomplish all the tasks and learning opportunities along the way. He has set His promises before us and calls us to take possession of the land He is giving us. Without Him there is no promise and no vision. As leaders, teachers, influences and opinion-makers in our congregations, families, small groups and places of work, we must copy the Master. We follow Him to take possession of the land and the promises He has given us and call others to follow our lead in moving to take possession of the land and the promises He has given them. Just like Moshe, we must take the lead and cause them to journey on in the kingdom so that we may all claim the prize that is set before us in Messiah!
1. - Stephen Sherwood, Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry - Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), page 258.
2. - Isa Aron, Steven M. Cohen, Lawrence A. Hoffman and Ari Y. Kelman, Sacred Strategies - Transforming Synagogues from Functional to Visionary, (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2010).
Further Study: Ezekiel 34:22-26; Luke 22:25-27; Hebrews 13:7-9,17
Application: Have you heard the Master's voice calling you to step back into your leadership role so that you can enable those who follow you to possess the land and the promises that He has given them? Remember that they are dependant on you as you are on them; your portion of land and your promises are bound up with theirs. Set up a masterclass with the Master today and make sure that none of you miss out!
Comment - 08:48 25Jul21 Tim: This is a most important lesson, and yet one that may be lost on the many who have never had the experience of leading a church. Having done this job for over a quarter of a century I can confirm that the job of "seeing" when the cloud is moving and blowing those trumpets (informing, corralling, leading out from the front, etc.) is crucial. Congregations are inherently static, lack vision and are more concerned with day-to-day issues than they are with vision and direction.
Comment - 10:36 25Jul21 Joshua VanTine: Baruch HaShem! Thank you for this drash, a clarion call to arise and lead as Messiah Yeshua does and enables. I am stirred in my soul. May the love of the Father inspire us to get up, to love HaShem with everything, with every capability apparent or buried and love others as ourselves, only as one, will we be right on the heels to inherit the promises. Thank you HaShem!
Comment - 15:38 25Jul21 James Brown: Also applies in secular leadership, where you must show genuine concern for those you lead, while remaining true to your principles!
Comment - 16:17 27Jul21 Scott Moore: There are some very nice nuances concerning the nature of leadership. The unanswered question concerns the nature of the land that we are called to possess. I realize that could be very different for different missions, but it would be great to see a discussion of that question. I always appreciate a d'var Torah that provokes discussion and debate!
Comment - 03:36 31Jul21 Diana Brown: Leaders today have to have the call and the vision to move forward. They also have to possess discernment when they speak to determine the soil the seed (Word of HaShem) is being deposited into. Exciting time to pray for leaders and shepherds and always, Jerusalem, Israel.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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