Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Lead Us and We Will Follow
A new leader. That's what the Jewish nation needed. The request
came from no other than Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher) himself.
Hashem (G-d) had reiterated that Moshe would not enter the land.
Moshe now understood that it would not be he who would lead the
Jews to the promised land. A new leader had to be appointed.
"Moshe spoke to Hashem saying, 'May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of
all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation. Who shall go out
before them and come in before them. Who shall take them out and
bring them in. And let the congregation of Hashem not be like sheep
that have no shepherd for them.'" (27:16-18)
Moshe was the ultimate leader in all of Jewish history. His short
prayer to Hashem contains the qualities he felt essential for the future
leaders of Klal Yisrael (the Jewish nation) to have.
Rabbi Yosele Dombrover zt"l (quoted in Kedushas Tzion) points out
an interesting peculiarity in the passage. Moshe should have said,
"And let the congregation of Hashem not be like sheep without a
shepherd." Why did he say, "like sheep that have no shepherd for
Sometimes, he answers, there are mediocre leaders who are adored
by the people. Other times there are great leaders but the people
have a hard time accepting their leadership. Moshe prayed that the
future leader of Klal Yisrael should be a great person ("A man... who
shall go out... and shall come in... ") But this alone is not enough. If
he were great, yet few recognized his greatness, his leadership would
meet with little success. Therefore he continued, "And let the
congregation of Hashem not be (feel) like sheep that have no
shepherd for them." Let them recognize and appreciate his
greatness, that they may place their trust in him and follow his
guidance faithfully like sheep after their shepherd.
Leaders of a generation carry tremendous responsibility. There are
many qualities that are essential for a true Jewish leader: humility,
honesty, integrity, wisdom, purity... the list goes on and on. Perhaps
above all, though, a leader must be able to relate to his generation.
It is of little use for a leader to sit upon a pedestal. In order to
successfully guide a people, its leader must identify with their needs,
be sympathetic to their problems, and understand their attitudes. A
leader must be a great person; but not so great as to lose sight of his
Perhaps this can give us another insight into the above pasuk: "And
let the congregation of Hashem not be like sheep that have no
shepherd for them." A great shepherd is not enough. The shepherd
must know, understand, and love his flock.
There has been much debate of late regarding the need for the
leaders we elect to serve as role models. We elect leaders, many
argue, not because of their morals and their qualities as a role model,
but because they are great politicians and leaders, powerful political
figures who understand the complexities of global politics and will do
a good job representing their country. Their personal lives are their
own business. Others find this degrading and appalling. Leaders are
elected as representatives of our society. They are our ambassadors
to the world. If they can not be looked up to as examples of
outstanding character, then they should not be acting as our
representatives, regardless of how popular they are or how well honed
their political prowess.
There are two main aspects which define a person. His physical self,
and his spiritual/moral higher self. When people select a leader, they
do so based on their own criteria. If the people are materialistic, as
most people usually are, they will elect a leader who appeals to their
materialistic values. Qualities such as charisma, good looks, and
popularity are of utmost importance.
When Hashem appoints a leader, He wants someone who can serve
as an example to the masses. A man who puts morals and spirituality
ahead of physical satisfaction and personal pride. "A man," as
Yehoshua is described, "in whom there is spirit (27:18)." "Not with
might and not with strength [will My anointed one rule] but with My
spirit, says Hashem (Zechariah 4:6)."
We can now understand why Moshe beseeched, "May Hashem, G-d
of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation."
There are many capable leaders. Some of them are men of spirit.
Some are men of flesh. We need a leader who lends less significance
to his flesh and more to his spirit, so that we may follow in his ways.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.