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Everyone's Leader

01/20/2017 11:18:41 AM


The world’s attention and fascination is currently focused on the inauguration of America’s new president.

The very next day after Mr. Trump will take the oath of office, Jews all over the world will gather in Synagogues and study the Torah portion of Shemot, which is a most timely reading during this inauguration season.

What makes a leader? A true leader is much more than one who is able to win an election. A true leader is one who possesses unique qualities and traits.

In the portion of Shemot we learn about two leaders. The first is the new Pharaoh, who succeeds the former Pharaoh and begins a new rule over Egypt. The second is the birth of Moses, who will subsequently become the iconic leader of history.

What is it that differentiated these two leaders, making Pharaoh into one of the cruelest tyrants in world history, whilst Moses becomes the exemplar leader for all to emulate?

Towards the end of Moses’ life, he is determined to appoint a new leader to succeed him. The Torah tells the story as follows (Numbers 27:15-17): “Moses spoke to G-d in a pressing manner, to say: ‘May Hashem, the G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in; and let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd.’”

This text is a most remarkable elucidation of leadership qualities, spoken by someone who embodied these very same traits. But three questions come to mind:

  1. The Torah’s word for Moses’ request is וידבר, which means that Moses spoke demandingly. Why was Moses so tenacious in his request to G-d?
  2. There are many classical ways to describe G-d, many of which are used throughout scripture. Why does Moses choose a most peculiar description, “the G-d of the spirits of all flesh”?
  3. The Torah introduces Moses’ request with the word לאמר, which means that the request should be passed on to others. But to who else did Moses want G-d to relate his request


Leadership means straddling a tough balance between asserting an agenda for all the people, whilst at the same time being tuned in to the individual character of each individual. A leader is someone who though they stand at the top, they can represent all the people, connect with all the people, and help each individual advance towards their own unique destiny. Thus, the test of a true leader is one who can lead a diverse and wide-ranging group of people.

When a leader chooses an agenda which will only benefit some of their people, then they aren’t leading their people as much as they are siding with their own personal agenda. Such a leader often becomes a leader in their own echo-chamber. A leader must be able to discover an agenda which will benefit all of their people, and know how to tailor the agenda to each person’s individual characteristics.

Moses appeals to G-d, the Knower of the spirit and persona of each individual, to choose a leader who will also be able to be such a master of spirits, able to discern and be concerned for the individual spirit of each individual. Someone who equally cares for each individual, who knows how to say the right words, give the right message, and offer the right reaction, according to each individual’s needs. This is not at all to suggest that the leader should water down his agenda, or cave to the relativism of his varied people. To the contrary, the leader must “go out before them and come in before them”, to be able to stand firmly from the top and hold on to their principles, but at the same time he “shall take them out and bring them in”, teach each person about their necessary place and role within the overall mission, and raise each one of them towards their greatest potential.

Moses was such a leader, and now he was requesting that G-d appoint a similar successor. But Moses knew that such leaders are hard to find, and one may be tempted or feel compelled to give up on the search and concede to a lower stature of a leader. This is why Moses presses G-d demandingly, thus teaching us that appointing such a leader is absolutely crucial, and for the sake of humanity we must never give up until such a leader is found.

In his response, G-d tells Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom there is this spirit.” Joshua is the answer to Moses’ demand, because he possesses this spirit – the ability to discern the individual spirit and characteristics of each individual, and to ably nurture each person accordingly.

But Moses isn’t yet content. He wants to assure that not only will his successor bear these leadership traits, but that all future leaders will be appointed by use of this very same criteria. This is why Moses asks G-d ‘to tell others’ about his demand – meaning that in future generations, when the time arrives to appoint a new leader, Moses’ demand will continue to be heard and adhered to.

The wicked Pharaoh was the exact opposite. The Torah describes his first day in office as follows: “A new Pharaoh was appointed over Egypt, who didn’t recognize Joseph.” Now, of course this new Pharaoh knew Joseph, because Joseph had essentially ruled Egypt for many years. But this new Pharaoh came into office with an agenda that was not for all his people, but rather one that would best suit him. He was a tyrant, a xenophobe and an oppressor, and he chose to persecute minorities and non-Egyptians. So his first executive order was to no longer recognize Joseph and his family, and to begin a systematic persecution of the Bnei Yisroel.

Under Pharaoh’s leadership, Egypt eventually crumbles and disappears from history. Under Moses’ and Joshua’s leadership, the Jewish people are still around continuing to be a force of moral teachings and values to the rest of the world.

Today America receives a new president. Mr. Trump will be the new leader of America, and effectively the leader of the free-world. We hope and pray that he will choose to emulate Moses and Joshua, be a man of ‘open spirit’, and strive to advance the great and moral American ideals in a way that will benefit all Americans and all decent citizens of the world.

May G-d bless him with wisdom, courage and compassion, and lots of success, to be a true leader of us all.

Thu, August 6 2020 16 Av 5780