THE QUINTESSENTIAL LEADER
Who is a true leader? What defines the essential character that a leader must possess in order to guide others? The answers can actually be found in this week's Torah reading.
Who is a true leader? What defines the essential character that a leader must possess in order to guide others? The answers can actually be found in this week's Torah reading. One of the most tragic events that occurred to the Children of Israel during their travels in the desert is signified by the two upside-down Hebrew letter nuns that appear surrounding a brief passage (Numbers 10:35-36) in this week's portion. We are told by our sages that these inverted letters signify a break between catastrophes. What seems to occur before the nuns is a three-day traveling of the nation completed within one day, because Hashem wanted to bring the Jewish people into the land of Israel immediately. After the nuns we find that the nation complained to Hashem, a fire broke out in the camp as a punishment, which was followed by more complaining from the nation about food.
After these events, Moses is angered and engages Hashem in a dialog, asking Him, "Why have I not found favor in Your eyes, that You place the burden of this entire people upon me? Did I conceive this entire people and give birth to it. . ." (ibid. 11:11-12). These questions show tremendous frustration and anger from Moses towards the nation, feelings that he never expresses anywhere else, not even at the incident of the golden calf, perhaps the people's greatest moment of failure! It is possible to say that at this point, Moses realized that the nation had failed so miserably with their actions, that they would not merit going into the land of Israel. Even though the failed mission of the spies had not yet happened, for Moses these complaints were the writing on the wall.
Yet within Moses' questions, he states what Hashem had told him to do. Moses was told to ". . .carry the nation in his bosom as a nursing mother carries a nursing child. . ." (ibid. 11:12). This analogy represents the relationship that Moses was to have with the nation. Moses was the leader par-excellence of the Jewish nation. So how does this analogy of a nursing mother convey the essence of true leadership? The simple fact is that a mother nursing a child has absolutely no other purpose than that of providing for the child. Her entire being is for the existence of someone else outside of her. Similarly, a leader can only truly lead if his purpose and existence is for the sake of others. A leader is meant to be the head of a group, representing entirely the interests of those people. Leaders always meet their downfall when they lose sight of their central purpose which is "doing for others" and not acting for personal gain. Leadership entails great responsibility, respect, and power which feed ego and corrupt otherwise noble intentions. In order not to fall prey to these human weaknesses, a leader must always maintain a certain modesty and humbleness. This is the final trait to be a great leader, because humility prevents one from getting carried away with oneself and enables one to accept advice and criticism in the decision-making process. And, as we would expect of the preeminent leader in Jewish history, Moses epitomized this fundamental trait, as the Torah records at the end of this week's portion: "The man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth" (ibid. 12:3).
These simple truths which define real leadership are too often forgotten by all of us. When we keep in mind the correct traits a leader should have, everyone can contribute to being a better leader in different areas. The intent to contribute by "doing things for others" along with a personal humility will, with Hashem's help, make us greater leaders for the future.
Danny Gimpel, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.
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