A SOLID PATTERN OF LEADERSHIP

alternate textNobody will argue about the fact that there is great need for quality leadership in our day. Leaders in the world today may take a page from the book of Mosheh when it comes to grinding it out as a leader. Mosheh may have had his shortcomings; there were days when even he had no idea how to handle the most peculiar and rebellious group of people entrusted to him for close to 40 years. Mosheh himself did not even enter the promised land because he had failed to follow orders in the exact way he was supposed to. But when I hear the quote “A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, and a little less than his share of the credit”, I think of Mosheh. At least, in Mosheh we have a leader who feared Yahweh and was both humble and wise enough to put the interests of the people under his leadership, far above his own interests, his own needs and his own ambitions. And what is more, when one reads about Mosheh in the Torah, what comes to the surface is a pattern of leadership that goes far beyond anything that is known and seen anywhere in the world today. A pattern that is not only about the character and the leadership style of Mosheh, the man, but also about the character and leadership style of Yahweh, the Almighty.

Last week we have seen that even the names of the leaders of the tribes of Yisrael contain various clues as to what a good leader should look like. In this week’s parashah, the same leaders are mentioned again, and even more is said about leadership – especially when it comes to Mosheh as a leader. Once again, it is extremely meaningful and encouraging to take a good look at this Scriptural pattern of leadership – not so much for the sake of the famous (and sometimes infamous) leaders of our day, but for our own sakes, because in some way or other, all of us are called to be leaders in certain areas of life. There is a saying that goes like this: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” In that sense we are all most definitely called to be leaders. We have been on the receiving side of a message that came to us as a great source of inspiration – the challenge is to spread this message, and to act it out, in a way that will inspire others!

One particularly important group of leaders among the people of Yisrael was the tribe of the Lewites. They were called to serve in the tabernacle and to take a leading role in the assemblies of the people – especially when it comes to sacrifices, purification and the forgiveness of sins. The first chapter of this week’s parashah, Bemidbar (Numbers) 8, focuses mainly on the Lewites. What many people may not know about the Lewites, is that (among other things) they were required to shave their entire bodies (Num 8:7), despite the fact that elsewhere the (rest of the) men of Yisrael are commanded not to do the same and especially not to shave the corner of their beards (Lev 19:27). Why was this exception being made with regards to the Lewites? The context of Bemidbar 8 clearly shows that it was part of the process of cleaning and purifying themselves. The principle is clear: You cannot use an unclean or impure instrument to impart cleanliness and purification. If the Lewites were to be instrumental in the process of imparting purity to the people, their own purity had to be unquestionable and beyond reproach. The same, of course, goes for any leader today: You cannot be a leader for the sake of righteousness and fairness and integrity, if your own lifestyle and your own example tells a complete different story.

What is most interesting here, is the Hebrew word used for shaving one’s body. It is the same word “ávar” which is the root word behind the word “Hebrew” (literally: “Ivri”) – a word that actually means “to cross over; to carry over; to go beyond; to advance”. Shaving one’s entire body is to go beyond that which is the order of the day – for the sake of purity and for the sake being absolutely obedient to Yahweh. The word “ávar” is a word that defines the Hebrew nation in more ways than one can imagine. When he was still a young man, Avraham was called “to go beyond” the world that was known to him, up till then. The people of Yisrael were called to leave Mitzrayim (Egypt) and – eventually – to “cross over” the Jordan and enter into the land that Yahweh had promised to them. In very much the same way, it is expected of leaders to go beyond the ordinary and beyond that which is normally expected of people and to excel in the field of expertise entrusted to them. It is all good and well to be satisfied with what you have and to enjoy the confines of the comfort zone one has set up for oneself. But that is almost certainly not where Yahweh wants you to stay. Ask Him to show you in what areas you need to cross over and go beyond the established comforts of your life and, who knows, you may become a leader that others will truly respect.

In the next chapter of the parashah, Bemidbar (Numbers) 9, we come across another example of the style of leadership that Mosheh had adopted, that is so different from the known leadership patterns of our day. It was the time of Pesach and there were men who came into contact with a corpse and were therefore, according to the stipulations of Torah, unfit to partake of the Pesach on the set-apart time. These men came to Mosheh and said to him: “Why are we withheld from bringing near the offering of Yahweh at its appointed time among the children of Yisrael?” Mosheh did not give them a quick answer. He did not give them a political correct answer. He did not appoint an Ad Hoc committee to come up with an answer in three months time. He did not postpone the answer to the question because there was an election coming up and a proper answer may have put his election campaign in danger. No, instead, we read in Num 9:8: “Wait, let me hear what Yahweh commands concerning you.” How wonderfully refreshing to hear about a leader who fully acknowledges that Yahweh is his Leader and his Counselor! How extremely unheard of, to come across a leader who recognizes an important issue, leaves everything else that takes up his time at that moment, consult his heavenly Father and comes back immediately with a decisive answer! May Yahweh establish leaders of this caliber in our time and our age!

In Bemidbar (Numbers) 11 one can learn a little bit more about the person behind this well-known leader – especially in the way he stood and pleaded before Yahweh on behalf of his people. Noteworthy in this respect is verse 12: “Was it I who conceived all these people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as the foster father carries a nursing child,’ to the land which You swore to their fathers?” To someone who stands on the outside it may seem that Mosheh is trying here to opt out as a leader. It may even seem that he does not really care about these people. The fact of the matter is: He does care. The way he had exercised his leadership up to that point, was exactly as he described in this verse. He carried them in his bosom, as a foster father carries a nursing child. To him these people were never just objects belonging to his reign. Not once did he regard them as not worthy of his full attention and his utmost devotion. He would rather plead with Yahweh to destroy him (Mosheh) than leaving the door open for Yahweh to unleash his anger upon them. That is why he was always prepared, like a worthy father or mother, to “carry” them (literally: “nasa” – “lift them up” – instead of being lifted up himself, in the same way as many of the leaders (“nasi”) of those days and today, prefer to be dealt with.

Bemidbar 12 is in many ways the highlight of this parashah and also the highlight of Mosheh’s characterization as a leader. Miryam and Aharon were murmuring between themselves about the fact that Mosheh had taken a Kushite woman as his wife. What does Mosheh do? What does he say? The text reflects that Mosheh did not say a single word. In fact, the text only states that “the man Mosheh was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth”. But we also read that Yahweh knew about the negative feelings of Miryam and Aharon towards Mosheh and that He called the three of them together. “Hear now My words (Yahweh said to them): If your prophet is of Yahweh, I make Myself known to him in a vision, and I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Mosheh, he is trustworthy in all My house. I speak with him mouth to mouth, and plainly, and not in riddles. And he sees the form of Yahweh. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant Mosheh?” (Num 12:6-8). Then we read that the displeasure of Yahweh burned against Aharom and Miryam and that Miryam subsequently became pale with leprosy. And even then, instead of taking a blow at Aharon and Miryam because of their animosity against him, we find Mosheh praying to Yahweh for Miryam’s recovery.

There are so many areas in which the leadership style of Mosheh resembled the leadership style of Y’shua the Messiah. The art of not continuously defending yourself and trying to prove your own innocence. The art of keeping silent when words can bring more damage than good. The quality of being humble and commending humbleness, knowing that it is the meek who shall inherit the earth (Mat 5:5). The preference to keep on praying for people, instead of casting a shadow of suspicion upon their words and their actions. The testimonial of being a servant who is trustworthy – not necessarily a prophet, but someone who is better off than most prophets out there, because he or she knows Yahweh on a level that allows them to clearly hear his voice and faithfully perform his works!

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