In Parashat Pinchas, Hashem tells Moshe to choose a leader to take Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael, as it says,“Yifkod Hashem … Ish Al HaEidah Asher Yeitzei Lifneihem VaAsher Yavo Lifneihem VaAsher Yotzi’eim VaAsher Yevi’eim,” “May Hashem appoint…A man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in” (BeMidbar 27:16-17). Why does the verse repeat what is said in the same phrase—“Who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in?” Also, why did Moshe give Semichah to Yehoshua with both of his hands, as it says, “Yadav,” when he was commanded to lean his hand (singular) upon him?
Rashi explains that, “Who shall go out before them and come in before them” shows the responsibility that a leader has, in that he must lead the nation on a battlefield, and not control the war from safe ground. The words, “who shall take them out and bring them in” displays Moshe’s hope that the leader would be able to do that and bring victory to the nation. Additionally, in terms of the question about Semichah, Rashi explains that Moshe wished to teach more of his wisdom than commanded by Hashem so that Yehoshua would be like a vessel full of and overflowing with wisdom.
The Keli Yakar says that Moshe taught Yehoshua two very valuable lessons: one about Torah and Mitzvot and another about having control over and leading the people properly. The first lesson is represented by, “Who shall take them out and bring them in,” which displays this ideology in a very forceful way. Moshe was instructing Yehoshua that with Torah and Mitzvot, one cannot be lazy and allow himself to compromise—just as Moshe controlled Bnei Yisrael with two strong hands, Yehoshua too has to lead with two strong hands.
However, in having control and leading the people properly, Moshe directed a more lenient method. “Who shall go out before them and come in before them,” is not supposed to drag or push the nation. This is symbolized by the one hand that argues and rebukes, while the other supports and embraces. This is a necessary approach for a nation that is stubborn and rejects it leaders. From this advice, Yehoshua would want to follow Moshe’s legacy.
When Hashem tells Moshe to take Yehoshua, He mentions that Yehoshua is an, “Ish Asher Ru’ach Bo,” “A man in whom there is spirit” (BeMidbar 27:18). This overwhelming complement clearly marked Yehoshua as the right leader, as it means that his spirit was strong enough that he would not feel pressured by anyone else to digress and divert from the true path of God.
The Gemara (Bava Batra 75a) states that Moshe did not place “all of it” upon Yehoshua, but just a portion of his majesty. The elders of that generation said, “The face of Moshe is like the sun, whereas the face of Yehoshua is like the moon. Woe for that shame! Woe for that disgrace.” Rashbam explains that the elders, who had seen both Moshe and Yehoshua and were able to evaluate their comparative greatness, were saddened by the fact that in such a short a time, the majesty, Moshe, who was “king and prophet” of Bnei Yisrael, was going to be replaced by Yehoshua, who was inferior to Moshe.
Rav Shlomo Heiman says that the younger generation was also aware that Moshe was greater than Yehoshua, but understood this to be a normal occurrence—that the teacher is always going to be greater than the student. Only the elders who were with Moshe for many years understood that Moshe’s and Yehoshua’s comparative levels were not even close to similar—they were both great, but, like the sun and the moon, they were incomparable in their brilliance and magnificence.
Rav Chaim of Volozhin links a scenario to the Gemara. He brings a situation where a very wealthy man often travels to a poor city where he invites people to come with him on his business trips in order that they have an opportunity to become rich. All of the people decline his offer but one, and after a short time, the dealings of these two men bring them success and great wealth. After returning to the city, the citizens couldn’t even look at their now wealthy friend out of embarrassment. Puzzled by their behavior, he asked why they were embarrassed in front of him, and not the business man, who was now ten times wealthier than them. They explained that the wealthy man was obviously blessed by Hashem and was destined to be successful, so they had no reason to be jealous of him. They continued, “You, however, were a pauper like us, except you took the opportunity to improve your status, and if we weren’t so weak and lazy, we could have raised ourselves out of poverty and have become prosperous also.”
The elders had no shame in front of Moshe, for who but the choice of Hashem could reach such spiritual heights? He is like the sun with its characteristics of light and warmth, said Rav Chaim. However, Yehoshua merited greatness only by serving through devotion in the tent of Torah, from which he didn’t leave, and by serving Moshe. He is therefore like the moon, which has only the power of reflecting whatever light it gets from the sun. The elders then said “we were also capable of achieving greatness, but we wasted our opportunity. Therefore, woe is to us from that Bushah, our own shame, and woe is to us from the Kelimah, the shame we suffer from you [Yehoshua].” We must realize how lucky we are when we have such great leaders, and we must learn to cherish every second we have with them.