British tennis star Andy Murray holds the record for the longest time between being second best and best in the tennis world. Based on the ATP World Tour official rankings, there were seven years and two months between the time he became second in the world in August 2009 and his eventual achievement of the top spot in 2016.
This statistic is perhaps the most striking of all of his remarkable achievements. To remain that long as the second best player in the world, yet keep trying to become the best, took tremendous perseverance and self-belief in his abilities. Yet he didn’t give up and eventually succeeded last year.
In the second of this week’s sidrot, Vayelech, Moses appoints Joshua as his successor using the phrase chazak ve’ematz, but both chazak and ematz ostensibly imply the same message – ‘be strong’. However, according to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, there is an important difference between the words. Ematz means ‘be strong’, but chazak means to be ‘steadfast’.
With these words, Moses instructed Joshua to always be steadfast in adhering to his principles. A leader is someone who adheres to their principles, come what may.
Above all, a leader is someone who, like Andy Murray, doesn’t give up easily. They have the focus and strength to carry out their mission and overcome obstacles in their path.
This was the critical message Moses transmitted to Joshua before his passing, and one that remains just as relevant today.
Yoni Birnbaum is rabbi of Hadley Wood Jewish