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The Transfer of Leadership

  • Harav Yehuda Amital



Parashat nitzavim-vayelekh




The Transfer of Leadership

Adapted by Tomer Mevorach

Translated by Kaeren Fish



"You are all standing today before the Lord your God…" (Devarim 29:9).  Rashi (29:12) writes:


"A different interpretation: 'You are all standing (nitzavim)' – because Bnei Yisrael were parting from one leader (Moshe) and taking on another (Yehoshua); therefore he made them stand ceremoniously, in order to exhort them. Yehoshua did the same thing, and likewise Shemuel, who said 'Stand and I shall judge you' (I Shemuel 12:7) when they parted from his leadership and entered the leadership of Shaul."


The source for Rashi's interpretation here is to be found in the Midrash Tanchuma (Nitzavim 1), but Rashi changes the language of the midrash in two ways. The midrash reads as follows:


"A different interpretation: Why did Moshe make them stand ceremoniously? Because they were passing from one approach (da’at) to another: from the approach of Moshe to the approach of Yehoshua, and [later on] from the approach of Yehoshua to the approach of the Elders. Yehoshua likewise made them stand ceremoniously, as it is written, 'And Yehoshua gathered all the elders of Israel in Shekhem' (Yehoshua 24:1). Similarly, when [the nation] passed from the approach of Shemuel to the approach of the kings, Shemuel made them stand ceremoniously, as it is written, 'And now stand and I shall judge you' (I Shemuel 12:7)."


The midrash talks about the differences between the approach or way of thinking of different leaders, while Rashi emphasizes the actual transition from one leader to another. Also, Rashi adds the comment, "in order to exhort them."


Why the need for exhortation? Perhaps this was necessary because the nation would now need to follow a new leader, to whom they were not yet accustomed. Obviously there were significant differences between Moshe and Yehoshua, but Rashi blurs these differences; the midrash, in contrast, emphasizes the different styles or ways of thinking that characterize each of them. There is no real contradiction between these two interpretations: after all, Rashi accepts the explanation of the midrash concerning the difference between the leaders. According to his understanding, however, the leaders ultimately walk the same path despite their differences in approach. In terms of personality, Moshe is certainly different from Yehoshua, but in terms of their leadership there is continuity rather than a break.


As we read this parasha, our yeshiva, too, is about to undergo a change in leadership. After Sukkot [5769], Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein will assume the post of Rosh Yeshiva, and shortly afterwards I will step down. This represents the culmination of a process that began several years ago. We appointed a committee to issue recommendations as to the next generation of Roshei Yeshiva. The committee included representatives of the faculty, alumni, administration, and overseas supporters. We did not dictate to the committee the number of Roshei Yeshiva they should choose, nor a list of the potential candidates.


We chose to go about the process in this way in order to avoid an unfortunate phenomenon in the yeshiva world whereby after a Rosh Yeshiva retires, the yeshiva is split, and sometimes even closed down, because Roshei Yeshiva have not designated their successors and the students are left in confusion. I am happy to say that not only did we accept the committee's recommendations, but we are implementing them: three years ago Rav Medan and Rav Gigi were appointed as Roshei Yeshiva, and now Rav Mosheh as well. It was important to me that the succession take place while I was still serving and not after my retirement. Therefore I delayed my retirement until the end of Tishrei.


I am not leaving the yeshiva; I am only leaving the post of Rosh Yeshiva. I believe, and our yeshiva has always believed, that the primary expression of the role of Rosh Yeshiva is delivering a weekly shiur klali (a talmudic lecture to the entire student body). There exist yeshivot in which the Rosh Yeshiva is not capable of giving a shiur klali; in our case, thank God, even among the regular faculty there are many who are capable of it. After Sukkot I will cease delivering the shiur klali and Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein will start doing so. I will still be at the yeshiva, as an "elder who sits and learns," and also teaching, if the students wish. I want to maintain contact with the students and with the yeshiva as a whole; more than anything else I will always continue to serve you faithfully. The yeshiva is the students. The Roshei Yeshiva are here to serve the students.


In past years the yeshiva has grown, undergoing many changes, with the final word in the hands of the Roshei Yeshiva. The decision-makers at our yeshiva, thank God, are not all kinds of interested parties and “machers.” The decision-makers are the Roshei Yeshiva, whose role – as stated – is to concern themselves with the students, and to serve them.


I have served alongside Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit”a for decades, and we have learned to cooperate even in situations where there was a difference of opinion. Among the younger Roshei Yeshiva there are also bound to be differences of opinion, and they too will learn to cooperate.


The yeshiva continues to develop. Upon becoming Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Medan was asked if the yeshiva would still be the same yeshiva; he correctly answered in the negative. Of course there are many changes: the students change, the faculty changes, and the yeshiva itself changes too. However, as in the case of Moshe and Yehoshua, along with the changes the yeshiva continues on the same path, guided by the same values. May it continue doing so for many more years.


(This sicha was delivered in Elul 5768 [2008].)