Rabbi David Walk
In this election year, there is a lot talk about leadership, what are the most important criteria, and, of course, who best represents those attributes? There's a fascinating article by Dr. Ronald E. Riggio, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at
Mirroring the melancholy verses from two weeks ago that described the death of Aharon, we have the description of Moshe handing over the reins of leadership to Yehoshua. When Aharon ascended the mountain to expire he placed the garments of office upon his son Eliezer. Then Eliezer stood before the entire community in the priestly raiment for all to see the transition of office. In our Torah reading it's a bit different. Yehoshua stands before Eliezer and the entire congregation. He is shown to the nation in the presence of the Cohen Gadol and previous leader, before the private ceremony with his beloved mentor, Moshe. The priesthood does not require the assent of the people; political and military leadership does.
This proto-democratic reality is forcefully presented in an otherwise difficult verse. Moshe begs God to appoint a replacement who will: go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:17). What's this 'go forth' then 'come before them,' and 'lead them out' then 'bring them in'? Isn't this just saying the same thing twice? According to Rashi, the first expression means that the leader should go personally to war with the nation as opposed to gentile kings who send others to do the dirty work. The second set of phrases teaches us that leadership should be the result of merit. It takes virtue to lead the Jewish nation. Nice ideas, but I don't think that's what the verse is driving at.
Rabbi Jonathan Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the
The Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh (Rabbi Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar, 1696-1743) wrote concerning this topic: When it says 'go forth before them' it means that the leader should have the willingness to lead them, while when it says 'who will lead them out,' it means that the people have the willingness to follow him as well (comment on the previous verse, 27:16). The holy rabbi demands that there be mutual love between the leader and the people. We're not just electing an impersonal manager of the body politic; we're making a shiduch. There are, of course, other requirements for good leaders, but this bottom line of mutual love, respect and concern must be present for the other necessities to become relevant.
Let's go back to Prof. Riggio's list and the especially repugnant proposition number three. This concept that leadership is about power and control is sadly very widespread. However, he explains that effective leadership isn't always good leadership. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were effective leaders, but, I hope, no one would consider them good leaders. Dr. Riggio explains two criteria which must be present for good leaders. They are ethical. They don't lie, cheat or break rules to get ahead. And they also don't leave followers exhausted, damaged, or demoralized. Added to that, good leaders make everyone stronger and better, for a sustainable future. In other words good leaders must be personally moral and care deeply for the people they lead. As opposed to Louis XIV, good leadership is more about the led than about the leader.
I believe that our verse, as explained by the Ohr Hachayim, says all that, but adds one more critical criterion. The followers must also want to be led by this individual. I guess that's what a fair election is about. Moshe and Yehoshua had all these qualifications. But the Torah isn't just relating the events of the past, it is teaching us how to behave in the future. I pray that the two countries I feel so very deeply about,
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