Imagine you have been the Chief Operating Officer of a major corporation. The owner and Chairman of the board spotted you some forty years back. Observing your commitment and concern during a totally different mission, he picked you to steer his fledgling group of workers into a major force in the corporate world. During your forty year tenure with the firm, you fulfilled every one of your boss’s wishes with honesty and skill. You cared for the corporation and every one of its employees as if they were your offspring. The Chairman, who supplied every one of the company’s needs, financial, moral, physical, and spiritual, commended you as the greatest individual that the would ever lead the corporation. But before you get to lead the company into a new phase of operation, the boss says it is time to retire.
So far so good. But then in a parting request you come into your boss’s office and begin to lecture him on the qualifications of a successor. You tell him to make sure that the next corporate officer has the qualities of leadership that will be able to bring the corporation into the next millenium. Then you add the kicker. After all, you tell the boss, “you don’t want to leave the company like sheep without a leader.” In simple terms, it sounds like there is a word that defines the move — chutzpah.
Though it may not be a perfect parable, it seems like Moshe did just that. After he realizes that he will not lead the Jewish people into the Land of Canaan he approaches Hashem with a request. “May Hashem the Lord of all spirits appoint a man over the assembly, who shall take them out and bring them in and let them not be like sheep that have no shepherd” (Number 27:15-18). The question is simple. How does Moshe have the gall to tell the Master Of The Universe, He who breathes life into the centipede while splitting the sea and delivering manna, the qualifications of the next leader? Out of the multitudes of earthlings that are on the planet, does the Lord need guidance in appointing a new leader of the Jewish people?
During the last months of the life of the Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezhritz life, the decrees against the Jews living in Russia increased many fold. Young men were forced into the Czar’s army and ripped from their families, heritage, and faith. Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk went to beseech Rabbi Dov Ber, the Holy Magid of Mezhritz to intercede on their behalf by praying to the Almighty to force an annulment of the Czar’s dastardly decrees.
“Perhaps,” suggested the Rebbe Elimelech, “we should declare a communal fast led by the Magid — surely our united prayers will evoke Heavenly compassion!”
But the Rebbe Dov Ber quietly assured his disciple of an amazing secret. “Soon I will be departing this world. There is no need to gather the community and have them deprive their weak bodies of food. I will personally approach the heavenly throne and plead for mercy from the Almighty.”
Sure enough, two weeks later the Mezhritzer Maggid passed from this world. The week of shiva passed, but the decrees were not annulled. The thirty period of morning passed as well, and still no change. The conscriptions were as ferocious as ever. Rabbi Elimelech became frustrated. Didn’t the Magid promise salvation?
Desperate for an answer, he went to the Magid’s grave and asked him why the decrees were not abolished.
That night the Magid appeared to his disciple and revealed to him the reason that nothing had occurred.
“On earth there is one view — one that I shared with you. Like you, I also saw the decree as a most terrible event befalling our nation. But here in Heaven I see a different picture. Now I understand everything from an entirely different perspective. And frankly, the view from above is not as bleak as the view from below. In fact, I don’t even see the decree as a curse. I cannot pray to annul the decree. At this point, your only salvation is to ask an earthly rabbi to help you. Only a human leader can feel the mortal pain as you and the community feel it. Only someone who sees life from your perspective can pray on your behalf.”
Moshe knew that Hashem can choose whomever He wants. But he felt it was his obligation to beseech the Almighty to continue his particular legacy and direction in leading the people. Moshe wanted the appointment based on his opinion of what the Jewish nation needs, not based on a Divine choice. A ruler with the attribute of pure justice may have been harsher on the people. He would not respond to each complaint by beseeching the Almighty for a miraculous solution. The sweetened waters of marah, the deliverance of quail, the splitting of the sea, the victories over Amalek, and the healing of Miriam were all preceded by a common denominator Moshe’s intervention. A different leader with a different personality may have chosen a different direction. And an immortal leader may have not felt the despair of the people. Moshe created a destiny for his people based on his humility and understanding of the plight of his fellow Jews. And he wanted a shepherd like himself to care for his sheep. Even if it meant attempting to cajole his Creator with a very human philosophy.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Dedicated in honor of the first wedding anniversary of Larry & Marcia Atlas by Mr. & Mrs. Larry Atlas
Drasha is the email edition of FaxHomily which is a Project of the Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation
Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.