Twelve spies are sent out by Moses to investigate the land of Israel. Ten bring back a pessimistic report and argue that there is no way the Israelites can conquer the land. Only two, Joshua and Caleb, have enough faith to be optimists.
Both are surely entitled to some recognition, but Joshua (originally Hoshea) seems to get the better reward, including a new name: Moses, says the Torah, called Hoshea the son of Nun “Y’hoshua”, Joshua. (Num. 13:16).
The K’hillat Yitzchak wonders what could have been in Moses’ mind. He answers his own question with two suggestions.
The first is that Joshua was closer than Caleb was to Moses. The second is that Moses might have been tempted to prevent anyone else, even his beloved disciple Joshua, taking over the leadership from him. He knew that his own days were numbered and the time would come for him to withdraw from the leadership.
The ten pessimistic spies were clearly disqualified from taking over, but not Joshua and Caleb. But he could have penalised even them; he could have accused them of compromising their credibility by associating with the pessimists. That way he could have gained more time for himself and extended his term of office.
But Moses was a just and fair man, and so he publicly showed his confidence in Joshua by giving him a new name that, according to the rabbis, denoted, “May God save you (HaShem yoshi’acha – a play on the name Y’hoshua) from the counsel of the other spies”.
The lesson we can learn is that there comes a time for any leader to relinquish office, and one should not unfairly deny a younger person their opportunity.
It is terribly hard to withdraw, even from an office which from its inception had a set time limit. It is also terribly hard to see someone else sitting in what you regard as your seat and governing what you have come to see as your own realm. But when the time comes one needs to know it and to be able to step down with dignity.
So what if there are still things that you had hoped and expected to be able to do?
Remember the saying of Rabbi Tarfon in the Perek, “It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it”.
So what if you think your successor is young? Alexander the Great had that problem; when people remarked on his youthfulness, he replied, “Give me time and I too will be able to win my victories”.
It helps a leader who has to step down to have thought about this moment in advance and to have a new area to move across to, a new involvement, a new challenge, even a new career. It might be good to start with a holiday, but you cannot turn the whole of the rest of your life into a holiday; you will soon be bored.
Like Joshua, win yourself a new name and turn your energies to a new chapter of life and activity.