At our Torat Yisrael annual congregational meeting last evening, I had the privilege of installing the officers and board members who will lead our congregation through the 2013-14 / 5774 year. This is one of the rabbinic tasks that gives me the greatest pleasure year after year.
Our congregation is led by an extraordinary group of committed lay leaders. I've said this for as long as I've been at Torat Yisrael, but now their accomplishments truly speak for themselves as we held an annual congregational meeting for the first time in our beautiful new synagogue building.
The booklet that is distributed at each year's annual meeting includes a list of the officers and the board members and the terms for which they are nominated to serve. About a third of our board has one year left in their term, another third has two years left, and the newest "class", of course, has three years left in their term. We designate new board members with an asterisk.
As I looked over the new list, I could not help but noticing that almost half of the group of board members who are beginning their three-year term are new to our board. That may not strike many of you as anything more than "expected." For our congregation, this is actually a very significant development. Our board includes many people who have served multiple terms: this creates an experienced leadership who bring a rich collective communal memory to the table as we plan for the future. Now, we are succeeding in reaching out and bringing new leaders to our board table. This will energize our discussion, broaden our horizons and help us develop the strong and experienced leadership that will be key to guiding our congregation in the future.
Happily, this week's Torah reading emphasizes the importance of just this dynamic of growing leadership for the future. Moses, elsewhere described as ענו מאוד [very humble / anav m'od] turns to God with concern for the welfare of the people after Moses himself will no longer lead. Moses says: "Let the Lord, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the Lord's community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd." (Numbers/Bamidbar 27:15).
Exhibiting perceptive understanding of the vulnerabilities at times of transition of leadership, God not only indicates to Moses that the "heir" who will next lead the people will be Joshua, son of Nun, but further instructs Moses to bring Joshua before the people now, before the crisis in leadership arises, and make it clear to the people that Joshua is both God's and Moses' choice to serve next as leader of the people.
We witness, at the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of the book of Joshua, that this very contentious and irritable people, the Israelites, experience the transition from Moses to Joshua seamlessly. They mourn Moses, of course, but they are supported and led through challenging times by Joshua with complete confidence in the young leader's capabilities. Joshua was designated early on. Joshua was "trained by the best." Joshua was known and respected and had earned their trust before ever he was called upon to lead the people on his own.
Of course, our situation here at Torat Yisrael is not analogous to the transitions in leadership from Moses to Joshua. But as we laud our current leadership and look to the faces of our newest leaders, we can learn much from this week's Torah Reading about leadership development and planning transitions for the future.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.