Parashat Vayeilekh

Friday, September 14, 2018 /5 Tishrei, 5778
Parashat Vayeilekh  Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30

Batons keep getting passed… from Moses to Joshua in our Torah portion this week… from the Prophets to the rabbinic sages in later centuries… from Washington to Adams and Obama to Trump… from one rabbi or cantor or educator to another in our own day….

And, in our Torah portion, comes the reassurance which helps carry the baton. We read this vital verse, “Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with this people into the land that the Eternal swore to their fathers to give to them’.” (Deut 31:7)

The two words in Hebrew, chazak ve’ematz,” translated as “Be strong and resolute,” are words of encouragement that not only Moses offered to Joshua, but which are extended to one taking up a task for the community. Soldiers in Israel are encouraged before leaving for their military service, “chazak ve’ematz.” So, too, leaders elected to new positions.

And, similarly the inspiration fits for us and synagogue leaders in transition.

We make it look easy – the passing of a baton from one leader to another. Yet, it is fraught with challenges. There are the emotional connections being stretched, ended or risked, and the organizational concerns of structures shifting or dissolving, norms dropped or continued, expectations articulated, over-articulated, or under-articulated, and more. Especially in a synagogue, which essentially is based on a commerce of trust, much thought, effort and concern is devoted to being certain that the baton is passed effectively. It is easy to see when it is dropped – everyone will let us know!

And, the best encouragement for all – professionals, leaders, members, children and adults, comes from our verse this week, “Be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with this people…”

Be strong and willing to take the risks, to make the mistakes, to be successful, too. Be resolute to listen, to hold tight, to step back and look around. Be trusting that “this people” is going with you, just as you are going with this people. Change can be difficult, but Torah recognized that, and now we do, too.

“Be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with this people…”

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!
Rabbi Doug Kohn