What is the image that comes to mind when we think of the ideal national
leader? Someone who has a grasp of the issues, who can see the big picture.
Someone who is strong and courageous, who can hold his own in the arena of
international affairs in times of war and peace. Someone who has a vision
for the future and the ability to make it happen. Someone who, through his
words and actions, can inspire and galvanize his people.
But in this week's Torah portion we find an altogether different measure of
leadership. As the Jewish people approach the Promised Land, Hashem appoints
Joshua as the successor to Moses. And what is his qualification for
leadership? That he is attuned to the spirit of each and every individual Jew.
The commentators explain that this is the overriding quality required of a
leader. It is not enough for a leader to have grand schemes and plans. It is
not enough for a leader to deliver soul-stirring addresses to the people. A
leader must be able to relate to his people on every level. He must be
sensitive to their needs and aspiration. He must empathize with their pain
and joy. A true leader cannot stand off in the distance. He must be
thoroughly attuned to the most minor requirements of his people in order to
lead effectively. For a true leader, there are no little things.
For forty years, Moses had fulfilled this role. During all this time, as he
enjoyed daily prophetic encounters with Hashem, Moses was constantly growing
in holiness until he reached a point where he was, according to the Midrash,
half human, half angel. Even so, whenever the people had challenged the
divine will, he had fathomed their motivations and defended them. Even as he
ascended from the mundane to the celestial, the gulf between him and his
people had never widened to the point where he could not relate to them. Now
that it was time for a change in leadership, Hashem chose Joshua who also
excelled in his sensitivity to the nuances of each individual's spirit. This
was the fundamental quality that Hashem wanted for a Jewish leader.
A revolutionary general was trying to revive the fighting spirit of his
trapped and starving guerillas. "If we can fight our way out of this
corner," he announced, "I will issue a large bonus to each man. You will
have enough money to buy all the bread and meat and fruits and vegetables
you need to recover your strength."
The guerillas responded to the promise. They fought like tigers and were
able to break out and get away. As soon as they got to safer territory, the
general, true to his word, awarded each man his bonus.
The next day, the one of the general's aides stormed into his tent. "Sir, a
whole group of the men took their bonus money and wasted it!"
"Indeed?" said the general. "And what did they do?"
"Instead of buying food to rebuild their strength," the aide said furiously,
"they spent all their money on tiny tins of caviar!"
The general stroked his chin thoughtfully for a few moments. "Thank you for
telling me this," he said to his aide. "It is important information. This
caviar must have been very important to them if they would spend all their
money on it even when they are starving and exhausted. Apparently, the men
need occasional splurges of luxury to help them deal with the tensions of
battle. I will make sure to provide it for them in the future."
In our own lives, as we seek to grow spiritually, we must never lose sight
of the physical needs of those around us. A great sage once said, "My
spiritual need is to serve the physical needs of others." There is profound
spiritual fulfillment in bringing comfort and happiness to other people,
even on the physical level. But in order to do so, we must be extremely
sensitive and attuned, for as people are different from each other so are