Leadership Styles (Parshat Vayeilech)


The Torah (Deuteronomy 31:7 and 31:23) speaks of two different leadership styles, consultative and authoritative, respectively with respect to Joshua leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. Leadership styles are influenced by:

  • Personality of the leader (consultative or authoritative).
  • Level of the people (disciplined and educated or not).
  • Context of the country (peace time or war).

From a Torah viewpoint we must also add the divine will for the leader and his people. This note will examine the role of Joshua as a leader in terms of the pardes method of exposition (i.e. literal meaning, exegesis, allusions, and secrets of the Torah), drawn from scripture, Talmud, and Zohar with associated commentaries. 

Literal Meaning – פשט

The Torah provides two apparently conflicting verses about Joshua’s mission of bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land.

  1. Ibid. 31:7 – “Moses summoned Joshua and said to him before the eyes of all Israel: Be strong and courageous, for you shall come (תבוא) with this people to the Land that Hashem promised to give them and you shall cause them to inherit it.”
  2. Ibid. 31:23 – “He commanded Joshua son of Nun and said: Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring (תביא) the Children of Israel to the land that I have promised to them and I shall be with you.” 

Rashi and many other commentators note the significant difference in the language of these two verses. The former verse indicates that Joshua will go with the people as a peer implying a consultative style of leadership. By contrast the latter verse indicates that Joshua will bring the people to Israel, even against their will if necessary, implying an authoritative leadership. Before citing the Talmud which explains this difference the author would like to point out a number of differences between these two verses at a literal (textual) level. The following table lists the differences between these two verses.

FeatureDeuteronomy 31:7Deuteronomy 31:23
NameJoshuaJoshua son of Nun
AudienceAll of IsraelPrivate
PeopleNationChildren of Israel
EndingDistribute the landHashem’s support

Analysis of Differences

Method of Speaking

In the former verse Moses called Joshua to inform him of the leadership transfer.  By contrast in the latter verse Hashem commanded Joshua to take the leadership. In the former verse Moses called Joshua by his first name only. By contrast Hashem called Joshua by his full name, indicating a position of honour. In the former verse Moses addressed Joshua in the presence of the people stressing a more consultative approach. By contrast in the latter verse Hashem addressed Joshua privately indicating a more authoritative approach (i.e. separate from the people).

Lead the People

In the former verse, as Rashi explains, Moses suggests Joshua to work with the people (העם) and enter the land of Israel with them, a task that Moses did not complete. In addition Moses realized that the people could become rebellious and turn against their leader as happened to Moses at the incident of the spies (Numbers 13:1-14:45) and the rebellion of Korach (ibid. 16:1-35). In the latter verse Hashem commanded Joshua to lead the children of Israel, even against their will, to the Promised Land of Israel because that is their destiny.

As mentioned above, the former verse indicates that Joshua will go with the people as a peer implying a consultative style of leadership. By contrast the latter verse indicates that Joshua will bring the people to Israel, even against their will if necessary, implying an authoritative leadership.


In the end of the verse Moses informed Joshua of his role to divide the land amongst the 12 tribes but he could not promise specific divine support. By contrast Hashem promised Joshua divine support and therefore he could be assured that he would be successful even if he had to force the people to enter and conquer the land.                  

Exegesis – דרש

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 8a) notes the differences between the two verses and comments in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, “In the former verse Moses said to Joshua: You and the elders of the generation will enter into the land of Israel (i.e. consultative leadership). In the latter verse Hashem said to Joshua to bring in the people even against their will. If necessary take a rod and strike the people. There must be one leader for a generation and not 2 or more leaders (i.e. authoritative leadership).”   

The Talmud (Sotah 40a) expresses a similar opinion about King David based upon 1 Chronicles 28:2, “King David rose to his feet and said: “Hear me, my brothers and my people! I wanted to build a resting-place for the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem.” Rabbi Nachman says, “If he said “my brethren (implying peers),” why did he say “my people” (implying subjects to the king)? And if he said “my people” why did he say “my brethren”? Rabbi Elazar says, “David said to the Israelites: If you listen to me, you are my brethren (i.e. consultative leadership). However if you do not listen to me willingly then you are my people and I am your king. Consequently I will rule over you by force (i.e. authoritative leadership)”.

Before analyzing these two verses the author would like to introduce another citation from the Talmud (Bava Batra 75a) to contrast the different levels of Moses and Joshua. The Talmud states, “The elders of that generation said: The face of Moses was as bright as the face of the sun; the face of Joshua was like the face of the moon. Woe for this embarrassment, woe for this disgrace, that we did not merit another leader of the stature of Moses.” The simile of sun and moon is especially appropriate from the scientific understanding of these luminaries both in quality and quantity. The sun produces its own light and heat through nuclear fusion in large quantities. By contrast the moon merely reflects the light of the sun and produces no heat.

Therefore Moses who represents the sun taught the Torah that he received at Sinai from Hashem with abundance, clarity and depth. In turn the Torah itself is compared to light as the verse states (Proverbs 6:23), “For a commandment is compared to a candle, and the Torah is compared to light “. By contrast Joshua received his knowledge of Torah from Moses and was not divinely inspired to the same extent. The Talmud (ibid.) comments on Numbers 27:20 when Hashem said to Moses about Joshua, “And you shall put of your honor upon him”, which indicates that you should put some of your honour, but not all of your honour.

On this basis we can explain the difference in the two verses. In the former verse, Moses advised Joshua to adopt a consultative approach to leadership because Moses realized that the elders would be reluctant to accept Joshua as their leader. The elders of that generation who studied Torah with Moses knew that Moses was the sun and Joshua the moon and would therefore regard Joshua as a peer but not a leader. By contrast in the latter verse Hashem assured Joshua that he should be the leader (i.e. authoritative leadership) because Hashem would confer a special blessing on Joshua to give him the wisdom and strength to lead the people as the verse states (ibid. 31:23), “I (Hashem) shall be with you.” Following the order of the verses, Moses was not aware of this blessing when he spoke to Joshua.

Hints and allusions – רמז

This section will analyze the structure of the verses that relate to leadership style as shown in the following table.  Although there are many words in the Torah that share these numerical values the author selected words from these values that provide a consistent theme of the  leadership styles from the viewpoint of Moses and Hashem.

TechniqueVerse 31:7Verse 31:23Meaning
Opening and closing letterם ו (6 + 40 =46) ך ו (6 + 20 =26)Divine energy
Number of words in verse2722Leadership Style
Number of letters in verse9877Activity

 Opening and closing letter

Both verses contain a reference to Hashem’s name using the opening and closing letters of the verses to yield 46 and 26 respectively and hence the divine energy when serving Hashem as a leader. The opening and closing letters of the first verse amount to 46 (ה-ו-ה-י-כ) meaning like Hashem but not Hashem directly. Hence, as explained above, Moses realized that Joshua was empowered by Hashem to be the leader of the Israelites albeit with a reduced level of divine support as compared to Moses. By contrast the number 26 in the second verse represents the gematria of the Tetragrammaton, the actual name of Hashem   (ה-ו-ה-י), indicating a much stronger level of divine support as promised by Hashem.

Number of words in verse

The numbers of words in the verses are 27 and 22, corresponding to the gematria of the words באחיו (through his brother) and בידו (through his hand or power), respectively. Leviticus 25:46 is the first verse that uses the word באחיו, setting a connotation of respectful or consultative leadership. The verse speaks of Hebrew servant and states, “But as for your Israelite kinsmen (באחיו) no one shall rule ruthlessly over the other.” By contrast the word בידו refers to Joshua’s authoritative leadership (Joshua 8:18). In chapter 8 of Joshua, Hashem commanded Joshua to re-attack Ai after the previous defeat and assured him that he will be victorious. To publicize Hashem’s support and strengthen Joshua’s leadership, Hashem commanded that Joshua hold a javelin during the battle as the verse states (Joshua 8:18), “So Joshua held out the javelin in his hand (בידו) toward the city Ai” and captured it (ibid. 19). He held the javelin until victory as the verse states (ibid. 26), “Joshua did not draw back the hand with which he held out his javelin until all the inhabitants of Ai had been defeated.” This action is reminiscent of Moses raising his hands during the battle against Amalek (Exodus 17:11-12) showing the continuation of authoritative and decisive leadership amongst the Israelites.

Number of letters in verse

The numbers of letters in the verses are 98 and 77, corresponding to the gematria of the words הצבא (the army) and עז (strength), respectively. Moses viewed Joshua as a military leader but not necessarily the prime Torah scholar of the generation. Hence Moses suggested a consultative style of leadership because, as mentioned previously, the elders of the generation would not readily accept Joshua as their spiritual leader. The former verse speaks of organizing the army הצבא (Joshua 4:13) before conquering Jericho. By contrast Hashem blessed Joshua with both military and spiritual leadership just as the word עז (strength) may refer to physical and spiritual strength (i.e. Torah). For example in Hannah’s prayer after bringing Samuel to Eli she praised Hashem (1 Samuel 2:10), “Hashem will grant strength to His king and raise the power (עז) of His anointed one”, referring to physical power. The Talmud (Zevachim 116a) interprets the verse (Psalms 29:11), “Hashem shall grant strength (עז) to His people”, as the spiritual power of Torah.  

Secrets of Torah –סוד

The Zohar (3:284a) similarly comments on these two verses (Deuteronomy 31:7 and 31:23) as referring to Joshua’s mission as leader of the Israelites. The former verse informs Joshua that he will be successful in leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, which was denied to Moses. The latter verse assures Joshua that he will be a successful leader and therefore may adopt an authoritative leadership stance since Hashem will be with him. 

The Zohar (ibid.) adds that the simile of Moses as the sun and Joshua as the moon is particularly appropriate at this juncture. The moon shines at night when the sun has already set corresponding to the passing of Moses and succession by Joshua. In addition the light of the moon is actually a reflection of the light of the sun, implying that Hashem will confer some of the greatness of Moses on Joshua to enable him to be an authoritative and successful leader. 

Practical Application

The reader may ask based upon the above analysis, “What should we expect from a current leader of the Israelites?” The answer would be a combination of consultative and authoritative leadership styles based upon the following advice from our sages.

  • Consultative – Hillel says (Avot 2:8 in prayer book and 2:7 in the printed Mishna), “More counsel results in more understanding”. This statement implies that a good leader should seek counsel from his advisers to gain a full understanding of any issue that confronts him. This statement favours a consultative approach.
  • Authoritative – After seeking counsel a leader must be decisive as the Talmud states (Sanhedrin 8a), “There must be one leader for a generation and not 2 or more leaders” or in the vernacular “The buck stops here.”

As mentioned above the leadership style is also dependent upon the level of the people and context of the country. In addition to these considerations a leader of the Israelites must also have divine support to lead his people. The reader may ask,” What are the discernible signs of divine support that apply today?” The author would like to point out the following examples from scripture.

Joseph – Acceptance by the People

After interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh, Joseph recommended that Pharaoh store 1/5 of the grain from the years of plenty to eventually disburse during the years of famine (Genesis 41:33-36). Pharaoh readily accepted Joseph’s advice and exclaimed (ibid. 38), “Could we find another like Joseph – a man in whom is the spirit of G-d?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph (ibid. 39), “Since G-d has informed you of all this, there can be no one who is discerning and wise as you.” Consequently Pharaoh gave Joseph absolute control over grain storage and disbursement (i.e. authoritative leadership) as the following verse relates, “You (Joseph) shall be in charge of the palace and by your command shall all my people be sustained.”

We see from this incident that someone who is divinely inspired can rule alone if the people (or rulers) accept his advice and realize that there is no as gifted as he.

David – Success in all Areas

Hashem gifted David with exceptional success in all areas as the following verses state (1 Samuel Chapter 18):

Verse 14 – David was successful (משכיל) in all his undertakings, for Hashem was with him.

Verse 15 – When Saul saw that David was successful (משכיל), he dreaded him.

In fact his success was so phenomenal that King Saul resented David as a threat to his kingdom. The Hebrew word (משכיל) alludes to these consequences of success (i.e. positive results and jealousy) by splitting the word in two and rearranging the letters as follows:

  • שכל מי – Who is wise (gifted) שכל to attain success through strategy as in David?
  • כשל מי – Who will stumble כשל through jealousy as King Saul who fought David and lost?

Similarly, David’s success was a function of his divine blessings which enabled him to conduct military campaigns as an authoritative leader. 


This article examined the different leadership styles of consultative or authoritative based upon Deuteronomy 31:7 and 31:23, respectively. Moses advised Joshua to adopt the former position because he felt that the elders and the people would not accept him as an authoritative leader. Rather he should work with the people and concentrate on conquering and dividing the land amongst the 12 tribes. However Hashem blessed Joshua with divine support enabling him to adopt a more authoritative position. In our time a leader should a consultative position and empower his subordinates to take responsibility and make decision. However the leader is ultimately responsible for the outcome and may need to assert his authority as required. In the Torah world, divine inspiration allows a leader to adopt a more authoritative stance. Without this gift a leader should accept a more consultative position. Divine inspiration manifests through astounding advice and superlative success as shown by Joseph and David respectively.

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