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 them?”
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 congregation.
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. [Techeiles Mordechai]