July 2017, Parshat Pinchas
This weeks Parsha, Parshat Pinchas, is actually a case study into exemplary leadership. While Moshe Rabbeinu is often lauded as being one of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people, we see in this week’s Parsha one of the only instances where he was personally denied by G-d. It is well known that although Moshe was the people of Israel’s leader in the desert, he was not afforded the opportunity to enter into the land of Israel with them and was instead buried on Mount Nebo near the border.
In almost tragic scenes, we see how selfless Moshe is when he begs G-d to ensure that the people of Israel are left with a leader who will take care of them after he dies. Yehoshua, Moshe’s right hand man, is appointed to the job. While most of us cannot fathom what it would have been like to speak to G-d face to face and engage with G-d in such an intimate manner on a daily basis, we surely can empathise with the disappointment Moshe would have felt. It isn’t always easy to be the one left behind while the people you guided and lead for 40 years continue on without you on their journey into the land you will never enter.
In fact, not only does Moshe not show any bitter feelings or resentment, he positively implores G-d to ensure the next leader will ‘go before the people, shall take them out and bring them in.’ These three key criteria define leadership: someone to provide an example to the people; someone to take the difficult steps to go forth as the leader when it is unpopular or the path forward may not be clear; and someone to pick up the mess on the way out and be the last to turn off the lights.
Change at a certain point is necessary but the exit strategy of a leader, even in the face of disappointment such as in the case of Moshe, really shows a person’s essence. While Moshe may have seen his inability to lead the people into the land as a failure, the annals of history record his exit with grace. Instead of judging his inability to go with his flock with sadness, we view Moshe as a great leader who knew when it was time to let others finish the job.
This is what we can learn from this weeks’ Parsha, exemplary leadership takes many forms. What is right isn’t always popular. But knowing that communities, and people, work together in a large patchwork tapestry where each must take their unique place will help each person, including leaders, to know their place within it.
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