Rabbi O’s Weekly–Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) Effective Leadership

Who will go out before them …who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the G-d will not be like sheep without a shepherd. (27:17)
What prerequisites did Moses request his successor have; what were his criteria for leadership? A leader “who will go out before them and who will lead them out and bring them in.” The leader’s job is not to walk “before” the people, rather he was to remain with them-approachable and in their midst at all times. He would help bring them in and out by serving as a model to be emulated and as a guide and teacher but the actual going in and out they would have to do for themselves.
The Talmud instructs us that when a family member is sick one should go to a sage and ask for mercy. One explanation is that the sage can instruct a person in the ways of prayer so that he himself can ask for mercy for his sick relative. The ideal is not that the sage prays instead of the person, rather he merely serves as an instructor of prayer. Why was Joshua chosen as a successor? He demonstrated that he understood that a Jewish leader does not act instead of the people, but rather provides a model to follow. Because he understood this more clearly than any of his contemporaries, he was chosen to succeed Moses.
This has application for contemporary Jews. Some people feel that the Rabbi is the one who does Mitzvos on their behalf. They pay dues at a synagogue with the understanding that they are absolved from any observance-after all that’s what the Rabbi is paid to do. Shabbos, kosher, Yom Tov (holidays) or anything else is for a religious functionary. This is an enormous error; it has been learned from others religions in which a religious official is the only one who can do certain rituals or recite certain prayers. The clergy are the only ones expected to be holy and constantly strive in spiritual matters.
I once counseled a couple; the wife was disappointed with one of her husband’s behavioral patterns. I explained that a part of it wasn’t unique to her husband, it was a “guy thing” and that I too had fallen into that rut in the early years of our marriage. But, I assured her, I sought counsel and worked on it and became a more sensitive husband as a result. She replied, “you’re a Rabbi and work on yourself; how is that applicable to my husband?” I discussed this point with her and it was a revelation that a Rabbi’s job is to facilitate and instruct but that Jewish observance, marriage, and ethical behavior in general are not matters merely for a rabbi, they are incumbent on every Jewish man and woman. The Torah was given to the entire Jewish nation en masse to demonstrate the point that it is applicable to all, not just a few select individuals.
Many Jews are surprised to discover that a Rabbi doesn’t have to officiate or even be present at a synagogue service, wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzva, funeral, baby naming or any other community or lifecycle event. He doesn’t have a special prayer pipeline to G-d; all of us have this power within us but being as it is more convenient to outsource it to the Rabbi, many do. It is unfortunately a cause in shirking one’s Jewish obligations.
Joshua was the heir to Jewish leadership because he was the one who could follow the model of Moses. He, and every bonafide religious leader after him, would educate and be a model for the people, not a conscience soother. Ultimately, the greatness of our leaders will be commensurate with the caliber of their followers.
Good Shabbos
(Sources: Yalkut Shimoni Bamidbar 228; Numbers 27:17; Bava Basra 116a with the commentary Meiri; Rav Zev Leff)