How to Retire and How Not to (Quick Comment, Parashat Va-yelech, Deuteronomy 31:1-30)

Looking in the mirror and—at age 69—I no longer see the young man I still think I am. It is not an easy reality to accept.

I imagine Moses had similar feelings as he says to the children of Israel, “I am now 120 years old. I can no longer do the things I once did.” (Deuteronomy 31:2)

God then calls him and his successor Joshua to the tent of Meeting to receive God’s charge and to turn over the reigns of leadership.

 Moses, after initial reluctance (see Deuteronomy 3:24-26), now knows how to let go. He charged Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage,” (Deuteronomy 31:6) and then left the leadership of the people to him without further interference.

By contrast Samuel did not. His failure to let go ruined the reign of the man God told Samuel to anoint as King, Saul (I Samuel 9 – 15). By second-guessing each of Saul’s decisions Samuel doomed Saul to a failed reign and a tragic end.

Those of us called to lead in any situation should examine both of these examples.

As a rabbi I have learned of new congregational leaders plagued by the constant interference of their retiring predecessors. How sad to see retiring rabbis destroy their legacy and foster bitterness in their successors and in their communities by their failure to retire gracefully!

Personally I had the blessing of two retiring colleagues who wished me well and then graciously relinquished the reins of leadership.I am ever grateful.

Whatever our field of work, we should ask ourselves: “When I retire, will I follow the sorry example of Samuel or the praiseworthy example of Moses?

 The right choice will enrich the legacy of your leadership and be a blessing to the one who follows you!

3 thoughts on “How to Retire and How Not to (Quick Comment, Parashat Va-yelech, Deuteronomy 31:1-30)

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