Knowing that he is about to die, Moses turns to G-d and asks him to appoint a successor:
Moses said to the Lord, "May the Lord, G-d of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd."
It is a farsighted, selfless gesture. As Rashi comments: "This is to tell the praise of the righteous - that when they are about to leave this world, they put aside their personal needs and become preoccupied with the needs of the community." Great leaders think about the long-term future. They are concerned with succession and continuity. So it was with Moses.
G-d tells Moses to appoint Joshua, 'a man in whom there is spirit'. He gives him precise instructions about how to arrange the succession:
"Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him . . . At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in."
There are three actions involved here:  Moses was to lay his hand on Joshua,  have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly, and  give him "some of your authority [me-hodecha]". What is the significance of this threefold process? What does it tell us about the nature of leadership in Judaism?
There is also a fascinating midrash about the first and third of these gestures:
And lay your hand on him - this is like lighting one candle with another. Give him some of your authority - this is like emptying one vessel into another.
(Bamidbar Rabbah 21: 15)
Beneath these enigmatic words is a fundamental truth about leadership.
In L'esprit Des Lois (1748), Montesquieu, one of the great political philosophers of the Enlightenment, set out his theory of the "separation of powers" into three branches: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Behind it lay a concern for the future of freedom if power were concentrated in a single source:
Liberty does not flourish because men have natural rights, or because they revolt if their leaders push them too far. It flourishes because power is so distributed and so organized that whoever is tempted to abuse it finds legal restraints in his way.
Montesquieu's source was not the Bible - but there is, in a verse in Isaiah, a strikingly similar idea:
For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our law-giver; the Lord is our king; he will save us. (Isaiah 33: 22)
This tripartite division can also be found in Devarim/Deuteronomy 17-18 in the passage dealing with the various leadership roles in ancient Israel: the king, the priest and the prophet. The sages later spoke about "three crowns" - the crowns of Torah, priesthood and kingship. Stuart Cohen, who has written an elegant book on the subject, The Three Crowns, notes that "what emerges from the [biblical] texts is not democracy throughout the political system, but a distinct notion of power-sharing at its highest levels. Neither Scripture nor early rabbinic writings express any sympathy whatsoever for a system of government in which a single body all group possesses a monopoly of political authority."
The three-fold process through which Joshua was to be inducted into office had to do with the three types of leadership. Specifically the second stage - "Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence" - had to do with the fact that Moses was not a priest. His successor had to be formally recognized by the representative of the priesthood, Eleazar the High Priest.
Power and influence are often thought of as being the same kind of thing: those who have power have influence and vice versa. In fact, though, they are quite different. If I have total power and then decide to share it with nine others, I now have only one-tenth of the power I had before. If I have a certain measure of influence and then share it with nine others, I do not have less. I have more. Instead of one person radiating this influence, there are now ten. Power works by division, influence by multiplication.
Moses occupied two roles. He was the functional equivalent of a king. He made the key decisions relating to the people: how they should be organized, the route they were to take on their journey, when and with whom they should engage in war. But he was also the greatest of the prophets. He spoke the word of G-d.
A king had power. He ruled. He made military, economic and political decisions. Those who disobeyed him faced the possible penalty of death. A prophet had no power whatsoever. He commanded no battalions. He had no way of enforcing his views. But he had massive influence. Today we barely remember the names of most of Israel's and Judah's kings. But the words of the prophets continue to inspire by the sheer force of their vision and ideals. As Kierkegaard once said: When a king dies, his power ends; when a prophet dies, his influence begins.
Moses was to confer both roles on Joshua as his successor. "Lay your hand on him" means, give him your role as a prophet, the intermediary through whom G-d's word is conveyed to the people. To this day we use the same word, semicha (laying on of hands), to describe the process whereby a rabbi ordains his disciples. "Give him some of your authority [me-hodecha]" refers to the second role. It means, invest him with the power you hold as a king.
We now understand the midrash. Influence is like lighting one candle with another. Sharing your influence with someone else does not mean you have less; you have more. When we use the flame of a candle to light another candle, the first is not diminished. There is now, simply, more light.
Transferring power, though, is like emptying one vessel into another. The more power you give away, the less you have. Moses' power ended with his death. His influence, though, remains to this day.
Judaism has an ambivalent attitude towards power. It is necessary. Without it, in the words of Rabbi Hanina, deputy High Priest, "people would eat one another alive" (Avot 3: 2). But Judaism long ago recognized that (to quote Lord Acton), power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Influence - the relation of prophet to people, teacher to disciple - is altogether different. It is a non-zero-sum game. Through it, both teacher and disciple grow. Both are enhanced.
Moses gave Joshua his power and his influence. The first was essential to the political and military tasks ahead. But it was the second that made Joshua one of the great figures of our tradition. Influence is simply more enduring than power.
BBC Radio 4 – Thought For The Day
20 December 2000
Hardly a week passes these days without news of some breathtaking new scientific discovery - mostly the result of the greatest research project ever - the mapping of the human genome, the decoding of life itself. A few days ago British scientists announced that they'd completed the first stage, the script of chromosome 22, one of the 23 that make up the human genetic profile, Then came news that an American team had worked out a formula for creating new life forms in the laboratory-
By any standards this is an extraordinary moment. The nineteenth century was about industrial technology; the twentieth about information technology. But the twenty-first century will be the age of biotechnology; and the questions it'll raise will be formidable.
The good news is very good indeed. There's a real chance that soon, scientists will be able to isolate the causes and find cures for a whole series of genetic disorders like Huntington's disease and cystic fibrosis. They may even discover new ways of treating congenital heart disease and some cancers, like leukemia.
But the other possibilities are far more problematic. There's the question of cloning, applied to human beings. There's the prospect that scientists might create transgenic animals or entirely new forms of bacteria and virus. There's even the possibility of designer babies, children born with artificially enhanced genes to make them super-bright or mega beautiful. For the first time in history, we have the power to change the genetic make-up of life on earth, and the scientist Edward Wilson rightly says that this will present the most profound intellectual and ethical choices humanity has ever faced. How then shall we proceed?
Right at the outset the Bible makes an extraordinary statement. For six days G-d created. But the day the Bible calls holy is the seventh day, the day G-d stopped creating, Even for G-d there are limits; and we now know that the limits within which life can flourish are very fine indeed. Not everything we can do, should we do. It's one thing to use technology to heal - quite another to make genetic changes that will have incalculable consequences for the future. Life is God's gift, and we are its guardians. So I want to propose a new set of three R's to take us into the next century: reverence, responsibility and restraint. Never have we needed them more than now.