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Parashat Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30)

“Be strong and resolute, be not in fear of in dread of them; for the Lord your God
marches with you: he will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Parashat Vayelech is all about transition: Moses announces to the Israelites he will not accompany them into Canaan; Joshua will lead them instead. But Vayelech also makes a subtle statement about responsible leadership.

Moses tells Joshua, “…Be strong and resolute for it is you who shall go with this people into the land…” (Deut. 31:7). Sixteen verses later, God tells Joshua, “…Be strong and resolute for you shall bring the Israelites into the land…” (Deut. 31:23). Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) notices Joshua’s role is described with two different phrases: “you shall go with” and “you shall bring.” He infers “go with” means Joshua will share leadership with the elders and will defer to them. “You shall bring” means if Joshua takes the initiative to lead, God will be with him and leadership will be his. So, which is it?

Ohr Hachayim (1696-1743; Moroccan Talmudist and Kabbalist) notes Moses declares God will go first into the land and destroy the nations living there (Deut. 31:3-6). Joshua will not need to fight and can simply come into the land with the people. God’s later instruction for Joshua to lead the people is for clarification, to ensure God’s intentions are clearly understood.

Reading Vayishlach on Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Repentance, offers a frame for considering these conflicting accounts. Leading requires both “going with” and “bringing in.” Effective leaders know when to take counsel and when to take initiative. Responsible leaders reflect regularly on the appropriate balance between those two tendencies. And since leadership begins “at home” the question is made personal this week.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
G’mar Chatima Tova/A Good Signing [in the Book of Life]

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