Pinchas – The Role of a Leader and His Followers

The dvar Torah is based on a shmuz I heard 15 years ago from Rav Moshe Chait zt”l in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Jerusalem.

In this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas we find out that Moshe will not be able to enter the Land of Israel.
“And Hashem said to Moshe: ‘Go up into this mountain of Avarim, and behold the land which I have given to the children of Israel. And when you have seen it, you also shall be gathered unto the people, as Aaron your brother was gathered; because you rebelled against My commandment in the wilderness of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify Me at the waters before their eyes.’–These are the waters of Merivat-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. And Moshe spoke to Hashem, saying: ‘Let Hashem, the G-D of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them, and who may come in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in; that the congregation of Hashem be not as sheep which have no shepherd.’ (Bamidbar, chapter 27, verses 12-17).”
The Yalkut Shimone points out that the term “spoke” (דבר) is harsh terminology, meaning that Moshe spoke to Hashem with a demanding language. This tone parallels the way in which Hashem spoke to Moshe, as we find many times in the Torah: “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying.” This statement means that Hashem spoke to Moshe harshly, to ensure Moshe told the mitzvos to the Jewish People. Yet this is the only place we find Moshe talking this way to Hashem.

Rashi asks: Why does the Torah place this statement after Moshe found out he was going to pass away before entering the Land? Rashi answers, this is to show the righteousness of a righteous person, for they preoccupy themselves with the needs of the congregation before caring about themselves. Rashi implies that in his question he assumed that when a righteous person hears he is about to die he wants to perfect himself therefore Rashi answers that Moshe is not caring about himself rather he is dealing with the congregation.

What was the concern for the congregation? In verse 16 Moshe says “Let Hashem, the G-D of spirits…” Rashi asks why the phrase “the G-D of spirits” is mentioned here. He says that Moshe wanted to be sure a leader was chosen who could deal with everyone’s views and attitudes on their own personal level, a kind of leader that fights in the front lines rather than from a place of safety.

Rashi further points out that for this request Moshe asked G-D in a demanding or urgent manner. Why then does the verse end with the term “saying”? Rashi answers that Moshe was telling G-D I must know myself who will be the next leader. Moshe knew that a leader was integral to the lives of Israel.

Moshe finishes his speech saying “that the congregation of Hashem be not as sheep which have no shepherd.” A shepherd cares individually about every single sheep he watches.

HaRav Dovid Leibowitz ztz”l
, the found of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, said that a way to be a leader is not to be concerned about what others will think about you or your salary. Rather one must care about every single person amongst the Jewish people.

This applies to teachers as well. A rebbe has to be sure that he understands his students and that his students understand him.

When The Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz z”tzl, the son of Rav Dovid Leibowitz, who took over the Yeshiva after his father passed, would make his pilpul shiurim (Talmudic discourses) he would be sure to make them in a way that his students would know how to give them over just as he did. This was because if he prepared Torah and tells it over but it is not understood, he might have taken a load off his own back, but his students are now mixed up.

The Torah portion in chapter 28 concludes, after Moshe talking to G-D, with G-D talks to Moshe concerning the sacrificial offerings. Rashi asks, What is the reason for the juxtaposition of this topic with the topic of leadership that Moshe was just talking about? Rashi answers, “Hashem is saying that He must do His share but the Jewish people have to do their share as well.” If the Jews want a leader who will guide them properly they have to do their share to help out the situation.

We have to decide whether we are leaders or followers, and act accordingly.

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