"'Who will go out in front of them'- What makes a leader?" - D'var Torah - Parashat (portion) Pinchas - July 10, 2015
“Let the Eternal One,
God of the spirits of
appoint a person over
who will go out in front
and will come in in
front of them
and who will bring them
and who will bring them
so that the congregation
of the Eternal One
won't be like sheep
without a shepherd.”
That was how Moses asked
for a successor
given that he would not
be allowed to lead the Israelites into the land of Canaan.
With God's guidance,
Moses chose his assistant, Joshua, ISH ASHER RUACH
a man with spirit inside
of him, to eventually take the
people into their promised land.
This Torah passage
raises important questions for us today.
What do we expect in a
How do we determine
criteria for what makes for
Numbers Chapter 27
contains a few hints that could provide material for a new bestseller on
"the qualities of the inspired, competent and visionary leader."
So what leadership traits were
implied in the passage from this week’s portion, Pinchas?
Moses was asked to appoint
a person over the congregation.
Ideally, a leader
recognizes that he or she is called upon to be responsible for and to be
responsive to every member of the community.
It may take time to
learn everyone's name and to gain a sense for individual stories and prized
During that process of
getting to know the people being served, a good leader discovers modes of
speech that can reach everyone.
Everything that he or
she says may not comport 100% with every person's views, but it is helpful when
at least some of leader's words resonate with the entire community.
We can examine the rest of this
section of the Torah reading
phrase by phrase to gain greater insight into specific components of
Who will go out in front of
What does it mean for a leader to go
out in front of the community?
That phrase could refer to the physical
place which the leader occupies when standing in front of the people. It is as if the leader, within
himself or herself, symbolizes the
totality of the community.
I believe that "going out in
front of them" also directs the leader to be open to absorbing new ideas
from outside sources.
Conventions, retreats, travel, reading, conversations with colleagues,
and personal study represent ways for leaders to "go out in front of the
people," to broaden their personal foundation of knowledge in order to
deepen their understanding of the skills they need for the duties they perform.
Who will come in before them...
After seeking sources for new ideas and
fresh perspectives on how the community can experience growth, the leader must
return to the people to share his or her vision. Such an approach doesn't mean that the leader would ask the
people to completely jettison the past. It would work within the existing framework of
community life to draw the leader and the people closer so that they can move
Who will bring them out....
This phrase can envision the
creation of partnerships that will offer the people an opportunity to enhance
and augment their leader's vision so as to make it their own. That can only happen when the people go
out along with their leaders to familiarize themselves with new insights
necessary to create positive change.
Who will bring them in....
The leader and community
members, having shared and fashioned a new vision in which everyone has an
investment and responsibility, apply their new knowledge and plans based in
trust, mutual respect, and cooperation.
So that the congregation won't
be like sheep without a shepherd.
Even with an ongoing
partnership based in a perspective and approach that the leader and people
share, a leader and his or her most trusted advisors still assume the ultimate
responsibility for the welfare of the people. A shepherd offers direction, sustenance, and
protection. That is what a
leader still must provide for the people so that they will move forward with hope
and without fear.
An individual with spirit inside of him/her.
What is the spirit that
we expect from our leaders?
In the section before
the passage I will read, the five daughters of Zelophchad asked for something
new. Never before had women
been allowed to inherit their father's possessions after his death . It had
always been passed on to other male relatives. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah had no
brothers. They made their plea to receive their inheritance without any
guarantee that they would be granted their request. In this case, Moses went to God to ask what to
do. In this unique tale in the Torah,
God said yes. Moses went
back to these women to tell them the good news. Even Moses learned that the law could change when a request
was presented based in loyalty, logic and fairness.
I believe that the spirit we want in our
leaders should be based in wisdom, dedication, and, as in this episode in the
Torah, openness towards new ideas.
Perhaps that is what we
saw in South Carolina with a decision not to fly the Confederate flag on the
Capitol grounds. As I am sure many
of us have heard, one speech supporting that decision came from a descendant of
Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.
Perhaps that is what we have
seen in certain decisions by the United States Supreme Court and by governmental and community leaders over
the years that have broken new ground, leading us towards fairness and justice.
Leaders want us to think, to ponder, to feel, and, sometimes, to put ourselves
in the position of others so that we can consider what changes might be
necessary to create a society which grants a greater sense of equality. And I believe that good leaders want us
to follow the statement of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: "All the world is a narrow bridge. The important thing is not to be
Whether we lead or
follow, may we do so with a sense of trust and an approach of shared responsibility. May we move forward based on our determination
to create a community that walks together across that narrow bridge as one
people, all the while knowing that because of our unity, we need not be afraid.