Yossi Feintuch: Moses as a lame duck leader

[Picture: Moses as a lame-duck leader ... Artist: Jim Padgett. Source: Free Bible Images]

[Picture: Moses as a lame-duck leader ... Artist: Jim Padgett. Source: Free Bible Images]

[For articles on the “Sabbath of Vayellech" in Hebrew, click here]

Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University. Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem. He now serves as rabbi at the Jewish Center in central Oregon

Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University.

Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem.

He now serves as rabbi at the Jewish Center in central Oregon.

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Moses’ earthly journey is drawing to a close with his leadership responsibilities having already been transferred to Joshua, thus rendering Moses a ‘’private citizen’’. This weekly portion on Shabbat Shuvah (between Rosh Ha-Shanah and YomKippurim), Vayelech, starts off in a unique way:    ‘’And Moses went and spoke these words unto all Israel’’ (Deuteronomy 31:1). Indeed, heretofore the Torah profusely used other verbs describing Moses’ actions, like ‘’said’’, ‘’spoke’’, ‘’told’’, ‘’assembled’’, ‘’sent’’ but not ‘’And Moses went…’’

[The original image is a free image for use at CC BY 2.0 level, uploaded by Pixabay to fexels]

[The original image is a free image for use at CC BY 2.0 level, uploaded by Pixabay to fexels]

Rather than come to him – as for instance in: ‘’And they went and came to Moses’’ (Numbers 13:26), Moses, so it seems, lost at once his due special respect, if not the adulation the people gave him as their leader (see Exodus 14:31b), and they did not seek him out anymore. But in order to conclude his farewell speech, even with a public rebuke that he embedded in his last song (The next Torah portion, Haazinu; see for instance Deuteronomy 32:5-6, 15), Moses went to the people. Herein we see evidence as to what happens once a leader becomes a ‘’lame duck’’, when the media shifts its full attention to the incoming leader, away from the outgoing…

This phenomenon is evident in the narrative that describes the final days of King David, once a most powerful and honoured monarch. To be sure, his closest aides and officers continue to honor him as they always did, even as they kept addressing him ‘’King’’ while using the grammatical third person.  Though the king is ‘’old’’ and noticeably ‘’aged’’, he could not effectively govern, not even to rule his body, while lying in bed and constantly feeling cold, that neither appropriate clothes, nor a pretty young woman, Avisag, could warm him up…

[Picture: Photo by Ann H from Pexels]

[Picture: Photo by Ann H from Pexels]

And indeed, in the street of Jerusalem David’s presumptive heir, Adonaijah, had already gained significant military and clerical advocacy from King David’s key supporters, as well as of David’s other five sons.  He, thus, proclaimed himself ceremoniously as the next-in-line and successor son and the new ‘’King’’ to be, while David was still alive and mentally alert, neither ready to abdicate nor to announce his choice for his heir either.

With Moses’ command of the people’s admiration rapidly abating, he comes to sense personally the meaning of losing his political stature and standing.  Moses’ resorting to seeking out the people – who would no longer come to him -- to complete his words to them that will include two more commandments (to bring the final tally to 613) is an indicator as to his plummeting popularity. Indeed, when Moses dies the Torah notes in a subtle, but at the same time in an unmistakable fashion that not every Israelites wept for him. And with that the seeds of this future saying were just planted: ’’ The king is dead, long live the new king.’’

[Picture: Moses as a lame-duck leader ... Artist: Jim Padgett. Source: Free Bible Images]

[Picture: Moses as a lame-duck leader ... Artist: Jim Padgett. Source: Free Bible Images]

[For articles on the “Sabbath of Vayellech" in Hebrew, click here]

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Yossi Feintuch: Moses as a lame duck leader

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