The Leader’s Legacy

The Almighty’s fateful command to Moshe to ascend Mount Avarim and gaze at the Land of Israel follows immediately after the Torah’s description of the laws of inheritance for daughters.  Rashi (1040 – 1105), in explanation of what seems like a random sequence, writes that this command actually came specifically at this point to dispel a mistaken impression that may have arisen from the incident of the inheritance of Tzelafchad’s daughters.  Moshe received the instructions that he should give the daughters an inheritance, which could be interpreted to mean that he would personally deliver the land to them.  To be clear that this should not raise his hope that the Divine decree forbidding his entry into the Land of Israel was rescinded, the Almighty immediately told him that he nevertheless had to prepare for death.  The original commandment that specified that Moshe should give the daughters their inheritance must mean, writes Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman (born 1912), the prominent elder Israeli Rosh Yeshiva and author, that he should appoint an agent to actually carry it out.  Since a person’s agent is legally considered like the principal that appointed him, the command was fulfilled even though Moshe was no longer alive.

R. Shteinman’s comment highlights a new facet of the idea of leaving a legacy.  There are many factors that motivate people to leave a legacy.  Some of these include the need to feel significant, the desire for some form of immortality, and the longing to make a difference in the world.  This episode adds yet another dimension.  For an ambitious person with vision, it can seem that everything that he wants to accomplish must be personally achieved and it may be impossible for one individual to live up an especially broad dream.  It can be liberating and encouraging to realize, however, that by sacrificing some movement directly toward the goal by instead widening our focus to include investment in inspiring, recruiting, and cultivating partners – agents – we can accomplish immeasurably more.  And if a particular purpose is truly noble and important, then it is even irresponsible and reckless to place its hope on only one frail human’s shoulders.  Perhaps the idea of a spiritual heir carrying the torch on further is what inspired Moshe to request the appointment of his successor in the very next passage, and offered him solace towards the end of his fruitful life.

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