Most of this week’s Torah portion of Shelach discusses the disastrous episode of the spies which condemned a whole generation of the Jewish people to die in the desert after wandering for 40 years, instead of everyone going straight into and inheriting the Land of Israel.
One lesson the Ralbag learns from here is that “it is appropriate for a person to place his trust in Hashem especially when He clearly shows that He is with him in what ever he decides to do. Behold, we all know the bad that happened to the Jews because they did not want to rely on the mission of The Exalted Hashem in inheriting the land and instead decided to send spies there, even though they had already witnessed the awesome wonders that The Exulted Hashem had done for them. They should have realized that the Hand of the Exulted Hashem will not fall short of doing whatever He wants.”
With this basic and baseless lack of trust that the Jewish people showed, at whatever level it really was, how miniscule it must have really been, still in all there is a very important lesson that every leader should learn from Moshe Rabbeinu, which the Ralbag in a different lesson points out. “It is appropriate for the perfect leader to have the strength to be patient with his followers and their blatant negligence in order to direct them to what is good. Behold, we see that it wasn’t enough that Moshe did not get angry at them for rebelling against him for wanting to return to Egypt even though Hashem showered them with favors done through him [Moshe], but [Moshe] also was gracious towards them and fell on his face before them pleading with outstretched arms that they won’t self-destruct by rebelling against The Exulted Hashem. This wasn’t even enough but he also piled on prayer after prayer before The Exulted Hashem that He should overlook their iniquities until The Exulted Hashem answered him and was comforted over the bad which He said He would do to His nation, meaning He did not completely wipe them out but left their children to inherit the land and they themselves did not all die at once.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
A leader is someone who takes, or at least attempts to take, his followers from point A to point B, whether that is physically or spiritually. Whatever goal-minded purpose or mission, a leader inspires, shows, directs, and leads a person or people in that direction. The Ralbag mentioned 3 areas in progression where Moshe went above and beyond and showed that he was the perfect leader:
1. He did not get angry when his followers were not listening to him, even though it was clearly proven without a shadow of a doubt that Moshe was just the messenger of the All Trustworthy, All-Powerful Hashem who was taking care of them, and they certainly should have trusted Hashem who had also proved His love, loyalty, and power towards them.
2. Moshe humbled himself and begged on his hands and knees for them to not continue with their mistakes, and to repent, and to go back onto the trustworthy path of Hashem.
3. He focused all his energy and strength to pray for them so that they wouldn’t be annihilated for not trusting in, and rebelling against, Hashem.
But shouldn’t this be expected of any leader, even if they are not perfect? Isn’t every leader expected to be selfless and self-sacrificing for the sake of his constituents? What else should he have done if he wasn’t the perfect leader?
It is implicit from here that if Moshe Rabbeinu would not have acted as a perfect leader, then he might have acted out of anger, albeit for good intentions. He was still the humblest of men and surely wouldn’t have felt any slight from them rebelling against him. Rather it must be that because they were rebelling against Hashem, the Honor of Hashem was being slighted; then there would have been just cause to speak out or even take action out of anger, with the intention of instilling fear into them so that they would hopefully leave their evil ways. It might have even worked, at least for a while.
However, we see from here that a truly perfect leader would never use anger, or even the display of anger, to sway his followers to the good; rather the opposite should be demonstrated. Not only was Moshe not angry, but he belittled himself and pleaded with his followers to change, and when that didn’t work, he put in an immense amount of strength and energy into his prayers in order to, at the very least, successfully lessen the punishment. Even though they complained, made some really nasty remarks, and showed an outright lack of trust and interest in following him and Hashem, still in all the perfect leader did not care that his followers didn’t show any interest in him, and showed a complete dedication towards them.
For that reason, the Ralbag is praising and pointing out that Moshe Rabbeinu was the perfect leader. It’s not surprising if people don’t want to follow you then you’ll just give up on them. There is just so much one can do to try to help others. However, it takes a perfect leader to never give up and to continue to help and be completely dedicated to his or her students, congregants, or even children even though they are showing a total lack of interest in him or her.