We all feel hurt when something we love is taken away from us, especially something that we ourselves worked hard to build or someone we worked hard to nurture. Who could know this better than Moses, who reminds us as we begin the book of Deuteronomy how he pleaded with God to allow him to enter the promised land.
With God’s help, Moses had built the ragtag bunch of slaves he led out of Egypt into a nation. It was Moses who fed them, disciplined them, chastised them, answered their annoying questions and intervened to save them from annihilation. Can we truly imagine what Moses felt when God told him that he would never enter the land of Israel? That he had to step back and hand stewardship of his ultimate dream to someone else? Despite his outstanding leadership, his steadfast dedication, his strength and compassion, he would never… ever… see his dreams fulfilled.
Perhaps then, Moses’ greatness was not his accomplishments, but his humility. Moses petitioned God repeatedly to change his mind, to let him be the leader to take the Jewish people into the land, yet God steadfastly refused. This is perhaps the only time in the Torah that God refuses Moses’ heartfelt pleading, for on every other occasion he pleaded for the welfare of others – this time Moses pleaded for himself.
The lesson for people in a position of leadership seems to be that the needs of the organization or community must always come before the needs of the leader. Of course I’m stating the obvious, but it is so often ignored. Yes, a leader needs to maintain their own physical and emotional wellbeing, but when it comes to the crunch, no leader – however hard they have worked, however many are drawn to their charisma, however much they feel they still have to give to the world – should put themselves before those they have served.
In the end, Moses receives God’s decision with humility. He has the vision to see that he has built something far greater than himself and that the work of continuing it would ultimately fall to others. Because of his humility, Moses was able to step back from the limelight, to step out of the sun, and firmly hand the reigns of religious leadership over to his successor Joshua.
We all feel hurt when something we have built is taken out of our hands. The spiritual challenge this presents us each with is “stepping back.” Stepping back from being in control. Stepping back from our sense of ownership. Stepping back from the rush that the responsibility gave us. It means realizing that the child we have given birth to is ready to make her own decisions and be responsible for the consequences they entail for her. In those moments, whether we are parents, entrepreneurs or activists, our duty is to understand that “stepping back” is our moral responsibility.