There are certain times in our lives when momentous events are destined to occur.
The verse from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) says it most eloquently:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
This past Shabbat in Israel and a week later in the Diaspora we read the portion of the Torah entitled Chukat which amongst other things informs us of the passing of Miriam, the passing of Aaron and the official confirmation that Moses will not be leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. It is this latter fact which made me think about a possible major omission from the statement in Kohelet. Glaringly missing is any reference to a time when leaders (or politicians) should retire, give way to younger talent and acknowledge that there is indeed a finite time to gracefully bow out.
Aaron realized that the time had arrived to hand over his duties to the next generation. Moses, the greatest of our prophets, had to be reminded that his term of office was expiring but once informed by Hashem he ensured that his successor, Joshua, would be accepted. The point is that successors were groomed and trained and not eliminated. In addition, neither Aaron nor Moshe plotted a “comeback” at some future stage.
The most common explanation for Moshe’s job termination is that he disobeyed instructions by striking the rock instead of speaking to it in order to produce much-needed water. However, I have read an interesting alternative commentary which resonates much more with current developments. This explanation postulates that Moshe’s “retirement” was a natural development. Being instrumental in preparing a slave people for liberation, confronting Pharaoh, leading a fractious multitude into the wilderness, dealing with rebellious behaviour and finally having to break the news that the journey would take 40 years needed a person only someone with Moshe’s capabilities could cope with. In addition, he was the channel whereby Divine instructions could be transmitted.
No wonder that as a new generation, born in freedom, approached the borders of the Promised Land, Moshe was exhausted and certainly no longer physically or mentally able to cope with the challenges and battles ahead. It needed the youthfulness, vigour and talents of someone like Joshua to inspire what was about to become a united nation in their own land. Moreover, it needed someone with military experience as well as political savvy. Rather than resisting the inevitable, Moshe realized that the time had indeed arrived for a “changing of the guard.” This was part of his greatness – the ability to inspire and lead, yet remain humble and without an inflated ego.
What a contrast to today’s’ situation where political leaders refuse to let go, suppress potential successors, have to be pushed from office and even endlessly recycle themselves by reincarnating into different parties. Inflated egos and claims of “nobody but me” can save the nation unfortunately abound.
With a rerun of elections due in September, these traits are now on full display.
We have politicians from left and right, religious and secular, who feel it is their divinely ordained destiny to lead us out of the wilderness into some sort of Garden of Eden which they alone can achieve. Their inflated egos abandon any semblance of rationality as they bombard us with ever increasing visions of an apocalyptic future.
Like all human beings even politicians have “use by” dates but the problem is that most do not acknowledge when that date has been exceeded. There comes a time when any leader regardless of his/her ability has been there too long and for the sake of the country should gracefully give way to a new face. There are plenty of talented candidates waiting to take over but some of them have been sidelined while others continue to wilt in the wilderness.
Even worse are those who having been rejected as abject failures in the past and cast out into the political desert still feel the urge to reappear like recurring nightmares and inflict themselves endlessly onto a long-suffering electorate. Not only do these narcissist types feel they are the Lord’s gift to humanity but they persist in demanding that they be given another opportunity to complete the disasters they were prevented from doing the first time around.
Once upon a time aspirants for leadership had a clear set of principles which guided their policies. Today many of these reincarnated politicians have abandoned long-held beliefs and while jumping ship often adopt dogmas diametrically opposed to former stances. Indeed, in some cases having wrecked their former parties they mutated into supporters of other ones all the while never losing their conviction that it is the dumb voters who are wrong rather than their own ego-driven ambitions.
What a contrast to the examples of Moshe, Aaron and Miriam and many of modern Israel’s pioneering leaders.
What can we, the long-suffering public, do to escape from this situation?
Some, suffering from politics fatigue, will tune off and out. As a result, the abstention rate for the forthcoming elections will be higher than usual. Others, employing the “plague on all your parties” technique will vote for wild card parties, thereby muddying the already murky results.
In a contest where most of the candidates and leaders are uninspired has-beens and ego trippers of the first order, the challenge is almost overwhelming. We need a miracle of Biblical proportions to sort out this unholy mess.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.