By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
July 14, 2001
MOSHE IS PREPARING FOR HIS FINAL DAYS. The leaders of his generation, Aharon and Miriam, are gone. He knows that he, too, will not serve as leader for much longer. And so, in the last months of his life, Moshe requests that
Hashem provide leadership for the next generation:
And Moshe spoke to Hashem, saying: "Let Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out before them and who will come before them and who will bring them out and who will bring them in; and let not the congregation of Hashem be like a flock that has no shepherd for them"
AND MOSHE SPOKE TO HASHEM, saying - After a career characterized by numerous instances of "And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying" Moshe, as it were, issues a charge to
Hashem. Rashi explains that here Moshe calls for a response to his petition for a leader.
IN ACTUALITY, MOSHE IS LOOKING for his own replacement. In stating his criteria for a leader, Moshe is providing a description of himself - the kind of leader he has always aspired to be. Moshe, who at first fled from leadership, now understands it so well. In addition, he knows that the new generation will provide different challenges, and have different needs, so his successor must be more than just a copy of himself.
WHY DOES MOSHE ADDRESS HASHEM as "G-d of the spirits of all flesh", a phrase used earlier in connection with the rebellion of Korach (16:22)? Rashi answers that this expression focuses on Hashem's awareness of the vast diversity that exists in the Jewish nation. Moshe's request is that Hashem "Appoint a leader over them who will tolerate each one according to his personality" (27:16). This leader must, like Hashem Himself, be tolerant of individual differences, even when they err, as when they followed the false leadership of Korach. It will be particularly important for the leader to put up with this individuality in the next generation, when the nation settles into its life on the land, where they will dwell "each man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan to Beer Sheva" (Melachim I 5:5).
MOSHE FURTHER ASKS THAT THE LEADER be one "who will go out before them and who will come before them" in battle. Rashi formulates this as another requirement for Jewish leadership:
Unlike the way of ancient kings of the other nations who would sit in their palaces and send their armies into battle. Rather, as I [Moshe] did when I fought Sichon and Og, as it is written: "Do not fear him" (Bamidbar 21:34), [this is stated in the singular, addressed directly to Moshe]; and as Yehoshua did, as it is written: "And Yehoshua went to him and said to him, 'Are you with us?'" (Yehoshua 5:13), [Yehoshua steps forward towards the threatening figure of the angel, standing, sword drawn, before him]. And so, regarding David it says, "For he would go out and come before them" [in battle] (Shmuel I 18:16). David would lead them out to battle and return at the forefront as well (27:17).
IT IS SIGNIFICANT THAT THE THREE EPISODES Rashi cites occur at the beginning of these leaders' tenure as military leaders: the battle against Sichon and Og are Moshe's first conquests of the land; Yehoshua, chosen as general, has not yet conquered Yericho; and David has still not assumed the throne. This suggests that leading the people "at the forefront" must be a natural quality, a prerequisite for leadership. It is a value cherished in the modern Israeli army: the cry of "Acharai - Follow me."
BEYOND THE CONTEXT OF BATTLE, the leader is appointed, not to send, not to follow, but to lead the people. He must provide direction and purpose.
THERE IS A PARADOX, a certain tension, between these two qualities of leadership: On the one hand, the leader must be sensitive to the people, aware of their diversity. Simultaneously, he must not be so influenced by them that they each go their own way causing their strength to dissipate. A leader must be a source of unity, a nucleus around which the diverse particles are united. This requires a balance between responsiveness and taking charge. Only a person of great intelligence and maturity, of broadmindedness and keen self-awareness, can provide this type of leadership, as exemplified by Moshe, Yehoshua and David.
MOSHE CONCLUDES HIS SUPPLICATION with "let not the congregation of Hashem be like a flock that has no shepherd for them." What further quality does he emphasize here?
RABBI YAAKOV YOSEF (1848-1902), in his first sermon as Maggid (community preacher) of Vilna in 1883, focused on this verse. He points out that one is called a shepherd, whether he tends his own or another's flock, as in:
As the shepherd who tends his flock (Yeshayahu 40:11).
RADAK (R. David Kimchi, c. 1160-c. 1235) comments here that the flock is the shepherd's. However, there is a difference when one tends his own flock or someone else's. When something is one's own there is an element of self-interest. The flock may have a shepherd, but his toil is for himself, not for them.
MOSHE KNOWS THAT THE PEOPLE will never be without leaders. But, he requests that Hashem give them leaders who will serve the people, who will put the nation's needs first. Otherwise, they will be like a flock which has no shepherd for them.
AT HASHEM'S DECREE, Yehoshua is appointed to succeed Moshe, thus providing the archetype for Jewish leadership:
And Moshe did as Hashem commanded him, and he took Yehoshua and he stood him before Elazar the Kohen and before the whole congregation
THIS IS LEADERSHIP UNDER THE RULE OF TORAH, as represented by Elazar, and accepted by the entire people.
STANDING ON THE BRINK OF A NEW ERA, the Children of Israel are presented with a new exemplary leader, Yehoshua, who will accept them, guide them and serve them.