Moses, Elijah and how to pass on the mantle of leadership by Irene Lancaster for Christian Today
Jewish academic and Hebrew scholar Irene Lancaster reflects on the experience of Moses and Elijah in choosing their successors, and what lessons this can teach us for our present times.
We have just learned the names of the two contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and thus of this country at present. At the same time, we read the last two Books from Numbers, known in Hebrew as BaMidbar (In The Desert) during the ‘Three Weeks’ period between the Fast of 17th of Tammuz and the Fast of 9th of Av, which this year falls on the evening of Shabbat on 6 August.
Both these fast days commemorate the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. The Fast of Tammuz fell on Sunday 17 July, and for the first time that I can remember, the Bet Din stated that, given the unseasonal heat, certain groups were exempt from fasting. These included people with underlying health conditions, as well as people over 70, pregnant women and also women in the first two years after childbirth.
During the really hot days of 18 to 20 July, all synagogues in this country were open to anyone seeking a cool place out of the heat. Because, let’s face it, this country isn’t very good in extremes of weather.
But other extremes are facing us just now, and not just those to do with our climate: put bluntly, this country no longer seems to know what it is or who it is for. An initially successful but flawed Prime Minister has just been removed from office by his own party and, during the summer, the two remaining candidates in the race to succeed him are trying their utmost to persuade 160,000 Tory voters, based mainly in one wealthy enclave of the country, that they are worthy of the mantle of the highest office.
Ironically, this is the very choice facing Moshe Rabbeinu in our upcoming Sedra of Pinchas (Numbers25:10-30) Moses too has to pass his mantle on to a successor. And he knows in his heart that the successor would have to be very different from him. The successor is no longer to lead an Exodus out of slavery but, after 40 years in the wilderness, will face the unknown in the ‘Promised Land’. Quite a tall order!