October 26, 2005
In the Diaspora
On Simchat Torah, we continue the never ending cycle of the reading of the Torah. We complete the reading of Sefer Devarim, ending with the story of Moses\’ death and begin again the reading of the first book of the Torah, Sefer Bereishit. The haftarah reading for Simchat Torah provides us with another form of continuity. Moses\’ leadership has come to an end and Joshua takes on his mantle of leadership. This transfer of power from Moses to Joshua is captured laconically at the beginning of the book of Joshua: \”After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses\’ attendant (m\’sharet Moshe).\” (Joshua 1:1)
Rabbi Levi ben Gershom (14th century France), noted that the use of the term \”m\’sharet – servant\” to describe Joshua\’s relationship to Moses rather than the term \”talmid – student\” infers an important lesson regarding the education of a future leader. (See also the Gaon from Vilna and the Malbim.) He associated the use of the term \”m\’sharet\” with the following teaching from the Talmud: \”Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: \’The service of the Torah is greater than the study of the Torah. For it is said: \’Here is Elisha, the son of Shaphat, who poured water on the hand of Elijah.\’ (2 Kings 3:11) It is not said, who learned, but who poured water. This proves that the service of the Torah is greater than its study.\” (Berachot 7b)
Rabbi Shmuel Edels (16-17th century Poland) asserts that this passage points out that there are certain kinds of educational experiences which can only be learned through apprenticeship. In other words, for some things book knowledge is insufficient. It is necessary to learn by watching and learning and practicing directly under the auspices of a master. Joshua was capable of becoming the leader of the nation at this critical moment in the people\’s history not only because he learned Torah directly from his master but more importantly because he saw his master, Moses, in action, learned from his experiences and practiced the art of leadership before him.