This verse teaches two ideas about God’s conception of leadership. Outside of the sanctuary rites God rejects dynastic succession as the basis for leadership; and secondly, ruach, or spirit, is the essential criterion of leadership for the next phase of Israelite life.
In Parashat Pinchas, Moses learns that Mount Avarim will be his final resting- place and Joshua, his trusted aide, will lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. For the first time in its existence as a community, leadership will pass from one figure to another. What are the special skills or personal qualities that make a person an effective leader of the Jewish people?
What is ruach? The medieval commentators offer various interpretations of the word ruach in this verse. For Sforno, it is a quality of “someone who is ready and worthy to be presented to the King of Kings”. Ibn Ezra notes that ruach is strength of character or physical strength.
The Bekhor Shor defines ruach as a series of traits: a spirit of wisdom, strength, piety and fitness for leadership. Rashi interprets ruach in relational terms: a leader who possesses it is someone who relates well to every individual.
The variety of definitions offered by the commentators shows the indeterminate nature of ruach. There is no one single quality of leadership, only leadership which is appropriate for the time. Moses is endowed with the kind of charismatic ruach which enables him to lead the Israelites to freedom and transmit the Torah to them. Joshua, on the other hand, possesses a ruach of military skill leading the Israelites in the wars against their enemies becoming the first judge in the Land of Israel. Moses and Joshua are the right leaders for their age; leaders come and go but God is eternal.