The Wisdom to Lead – and Follow

The Fellowship  |  January 24, 2020

Older sister helping her younger sibling color a page.
Children coloring pages in a coloring book while flying to Israel. Young girl coloring with help from older sister. Blonde hair. At table desk.

And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.” — Joshua 3:7

As we begin a new year and a new decade, let the pursuit of wisdom be one of our top goals. Enjoy this collection of devotions on wisdom throughout the month from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s timeless teachings.

As we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this month, download our complimentary booklet on the historic and spiritual bond between the Jewish and African-American communities.

As we read through the chapters of Joshua we begin to notice an interesting pattern. Many of the stories that happened to Moses happen to Joshua, and the pattern continues throughout Joshua’s life.

Both Moses and Joshua split a body of water. Moses split the Red Sea, and Joshua split the Jordan River. Both are told to take off their shoes in an encounter with God’s holy presence. Moses and Joshua each send spies in similar manners. And both Joshua and Moses run national campaigns of circumcision and reinstatements of the Passover celebration. Finally, at the end of their lives, both receive the honorific of “servant of God.”

The Bible itself highlights this phenomenon when Joshua splits the river in relating that, “And the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses’” (Joshua 3:7).

What can we glean from these overlapping lives? In these curious situations of intersection, I believe we can learn an important lesson about tradition and leadership. Often, leaders, or the next generation, want to assert their freedom and power by creating a new tradition, or demolishing the old tradition. They demand a new vision for their new generation.

Yet, the Bible is teaching us a valuable lesson. Often the greatest and most mature stance towards tradition and leadership is to realize that sometimes we need men of vision, and sometimes we need people of action. Not every generation needs a new vision; some generations just need the courage to build off the vision of the previous generation. That’s exactly what Joshua did — he built and led from the foundations established by Moses.

On the surface, Joshua’s life mirrored Moses’ life in many ways. But when it came down to it, Joshua not only brought the people into the land of Israel, but he did so peacefully, an act that his guide and mentor, Moses, could not claim for himself. Joshua might not have been the visionary that Moses was, but he was the grounded, realistic person who could complete what Moses started.

For us, my friends, we can heed an important lesson. Different times in life require the ability to lead and envision the future, while other times of life demand the ability to humble ourselves and follow. Wisdom entails knowing when each trait is necessary.

Download your complimentary copy of our booklet, On the Frontlines of Faith, which explores the historic and spiritual bond between the African-American and Jewish communities during the civil rights movement.