In this week’s Torah portion of Korach we find an unsuccessful revolt against Moshe and Aharon. While over a myriad of rebels died, the Jewish people complained: “All the congregation of the Children of Israel were muttering to each other the next day about Moshe and Aharon saying, ‘You have killed the nation of Hashem!’” (Bamidbar 17:6). Even so, a few verses later it says: “Moshe says to Aharon, ‘Take the pan and put upon it fire from the alter and place incense upon it and quickly go to the congregation and atone for them, for wrath has gone out from before Hashem; the plague has begun’” (verse 11). Aharon stopped the plague, but not before 14,700 people died, in addition to those who were killed in the revolt of Korach.
learns an incredible lesson about leadership from this episode: “It is befitting for a complete leader to put in [all] his effort to protect his followers as much as he could. Even if they are rebelling against him he should not slack in saving them. For we see that even with the people’s bad character of complaining about Moshe and Aharon over the ill fate of the sinners who stood up against them, which were really their own fault, still in all, Moshe put in every effort possible to save them and to switch their evil intentions. This is even though the people really should not have complained about Moshe in this matter, still, when Moshe saw them rebelling against him which was the reason why the wrath flew out from Hashem to annihilate them, [Moshe] was quick to put in effort to save them. For this reason he commanded Aharon to sacrifice incense quickly in order to remove the plague from the nation.” (Click here
for Hebrew text.)
We see from this Ralbag what a true leader, a “complete leader” really is. He has to be a superhero, a man of steel
: nothing and no one can phase him – even if they start a mutiny and incorrectly blame all their problems on him. Even if it is not at all his fault, he must be ready and willing to protect his people from whatever harm might come THEIR way, as quickly as possible, even in the case of a plague sent directly from the hand of G-D. That is his role, and it is what is expected and required of him.
However, if one digs deeper into the matter, something quite astonishing can be seen. It would seem that if Moshe had not been their leader, and rather was just someone being picked on who may have had it in his power to save their lives, it would seem that there would not be any claims against him if he had let all of them die out. Indeed, why should there be? Imagine the verbal abuse, the barrage of hurtful words being thrown at him, the innuendos, the people literally ready to lynch him – why should he feel the need to save their lives? Even Moshe, the humblest person in the world who was naturally sensitive to other people’s needs, would have, it seem from this Ralbag, been well within his rights to not have taken action to save them from their own demise. It was only because he was their leader that he was expected, and “it is befitting” for him to do whatever was within his means to save them.
The Ralbag is teaching a lesson to every leader, not just praising Moshe. Leaders are expected to care for his or her people, whatever cost. And every leader has the potential to be a superhero, unfazed by how others judge him or her. It is not so easy; if he or she would not have been the leader, then there would not be the expectation to go so far as to completely look the other way in the face of public scrutiny. Now that he or she is a leader, however, each leader has the potential inside of themselves to overcome the feelings of hurt and insult in order to act with alacrity and zeal in an effort to save his or her followers.