Parshat Vayelech opens with Moses telling the Israelites that he would not lead them into the Land of Israel, and that Joshua would take over.
“Moses went and spoke these things to all Israel. He said to them: I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be active[…] Joshua is the one who shall cross before you”
According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks OBM, Moses recognized one great failure of his leadership only at the end of his life, aged 12: he had taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he hadn’t taken Egypt out of the Israelites. He had changed his people’s fate, but he hadn’t changed their character. He now realized that for this to happen there would have to be a different kind of leadership, one that handed back responsibility to the people as a whole, and to the elders in particular. So long as there was a Moses performing miracles, the people would not have to accept responsibility for themselves.
The Israelites were slaves; and as slaves, you do what you are told and survive with what you are given, causing you to be dependent on your master. As they were exiting that land of Egypt with their new leader, Moshe, they kept on being dependent on him as he was their miracle worker. For example: they were stuck on the shore with the Egyptians behind them - and he split the sea. They complained about the food - and Manna fell from the heavens. Not enough water? No problem - he hit the rock and water they received. Whatever they needed he provided for them.
As Moses was getting older and was about to pass away he transferred his leadership into the hands of a leader who would hand back the responsibility to the people. To Joshua.
In the book of Bamidbar, Joshua is described as, איש אשר רוח בו - “A man in whom there is spirit”. The Netziv, a commentator, explains that “A man in whom there is spirit” means that he is independent in his views and he is not drawn after urges for his own pleasure or that of others. A man who is independent in his views and actions can lead the Jewish people to independence in the land of Israel where they will have to farm the land, sustain and govern themselves. They had to work for it, changing their personalities from dependent people to independent people.
This relates to every single one of us. Life is a journey that we all go through starting as little children depending on our parents to feed us, give us shelter and provide us with whatever we need. As we grow we learn to become more responsible, learning from our environment how to adapt, and as we reach adulthood we become fully independent, doing what we need to do when we need to do it. Similarly in school during the MYP years, we are dependent on our teachers to teach us and help us do whatever we need. As we enter the Diploma Program, we have study periods in which we rely on ourselves to get the work done that we need to do. It's a trait that we are building and one that we should all strive for in the world we live in today.
Amit, Grade 12