From Insights and Inspirations
Published by the Ra’anana Community Kollel
Ra’anana Community Kollel
Following the Leader
Rabbi Dovid Horwitz
“And Moshe spoke to Hashem saying, ‘Let Hashem appoint a leader over the people, who will go out before them, go in before them, who he will lead them out and bring them in, so that the people should not be as sheep that have no shepherd.’”
Moshe asks Hashem, before he dies, to appoint an appropriate leader over the Jewish people. From Moshe’s descriptive request we gain tremendous insight into what qualities a Jewish leader should possess in order to be successful. On a simple level, the Torah is instructing us that the Jewish leader needs to be in command of his people. He must be at the forefront of all battles, leading his people out to the field and bringing them back in when the battle is over. What a far cry from today’s national leaders and presidents who send their soldiers out to war, while they sit in the safety of their own homes!
On a deeper level, however, Moshe is asking Hashem to pick a leader who will be in command of his people in spiritual matters, as well. He must be clear-minded in knowing what is right and what is wrong, and must lead his people out into spiritual battle in order to fulfill what is right. He must guide the people with an unbending determination to bring them closer to Hashem. Woe to us if a religious leader become like a politician, giving in to the wants of the people, even when it means straying from the truth!
The Gemara in Sota 49a says that Mashiach will come to a generation whose pnei hador are like the pnei hakelev (face of a dog). Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the great founder of the Mussar movement, understands that pnei hador are referring to the religious leaders of the generation. Their resemblance to that of a dog cannot be taken literally. Rather, he interprets this statement to be comparing the behavior of the leaders to those of a dog. A dog will always walk ahead of its master, with the master holding onto its leash from behind. To a simple onlooker it might appear that it is the dog that is pulling the person, taking him to where he, the dog, wants to go. Actually, it is the master who is leading the dog. A tug on the leash will lead the dog where its master wishes to go.
Similar to the dog, says Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the Jewish leaders of the pre-Messianic era will appear to be leading their people, when actually they will be guiding the people by responding to their wishes. The people will be pulling and guiding their leaders, persuading them to restructure religious morals in order to fit in with their lifestyles. Such a generation cannot help but stray from the path of truth. Indeed the founder of the Reform movement, Moses Mendelssohn, was merely responding to the needs of his community who found it too difficult to remain ostracized and unaccepted by the gentile culture that they lived in. Rather than be the strong Jewish leader that he should have been, elevating his people to overcome their difficulties of balancing their Torah commitments with the society in which they lived, he began trimming and discarding parts of Jewish tradition in order to lessen those difficulties. As great a leader Mendelssohn was alleged to have been, he was, like the dog, being pulled on an invisible leash by the people he served.
Of course, a true Torah leader, one that Moshe is describing, is not someone who is aloof and callous to the needs of the people. A true shepherd will sacrifice himself for the needs of his community. Their troubles are his troubles. Their pain is his pain. A true leader however, will not cut corners in Judaism because he cannot bear to see the suffering of his people. He will remain strong and steadfast to help his people within the borders of absolute Halacha. Rabbi Salanter’s prophetic words ring true. A true leader like the one that Moshe prayed for is hard to find. Of course we have our Torah leaders who exemplify what Moshe was describing. Unfortunately though, we haven’t a single Torah leader who is accepted by the entire Jewish community who can lead us back to the straight and narrow path. For that we wait and pray for Eliyahu and Mashiach, may they both come speedily in our days!