“Let Hashem appoint a man over the congregation.” (Bamidbar 27:16)

Moshe Rabbeinu pleads with Hashem that a replacement leader be found, asking that the replacement be a “man over the congregation”. One would have thought that there would be some eloquent terms used, and a string of adjectives to describe the individual who would be fit for this position. Yet Moshe only asks for “a man”. In the following verse (27:16), Moshe pleads that Klal Yisrael should not be left “as sheep without a shepherd.”

I once heard the following question: If one would notice sheep grazing alone, there always seems to be a lead sheep. Therefore, regardless of whether there is a shepherd or not, there is always a leader. What is meant by Moshe’s request that klal Yisrael should not be like sheep without a shepherd?

What is the difference between a shepherd and a lead sheep? The lead sheep will go to a place that he feels is comfortable for him to graze. He will not consider the needs, wants or desires of his fellow sheep. On the other hand, the shepherd does not graze and eat grass, and his only concern is to find a location that is comfortable for the entire herd. In other words, we look for leaders who are not motivated by opportunities for personal gain.

Many times a leader may be so totally aloof and not have the ability to relate to the people under his rule. I call this the “let them eat cake” syndrome. In order for one to be a leader, one has to be a “man over the congregation” – a man who presides over the congregation – a man just like the rest – living and dealing with the problems encountered by everyone else around him.

Rabbi Yissacher Frand seems to understand this same idea, but he learns it from a Chazal on “Yiftach b’doro kiShmuel bidoro” – the simple meaning is that each generation’s leader should be held in the same esteem. Rabbi Frand accentuated the “bi’doro”, meaning that the leader has to be ‘in’ his generation, living and understanding what challenges the people are going through.

This idea is also found in a third location, The Yalkut Shemoni, on parshas Mikeitz (148). The verse (41:38) says “Pharaoh said…Can we find…a man in whom the spirit of G-d is?” when discussing the greatness of Yosef. The Medrash explains that Pharaoh felt that if he searched from one end of the world to another, he would not find a man like Yosef. The question is asked that the world at large was aware of Yaakov Avinu, who was well known as a righteous man, presumably even more righteous than Yosef. To this, the answer is given that Pharaoh assumed that Yaakov was a recluse, living in an ivory tower, totally removed from the business world and its temptations. To be a righteous person, in that context, was not impressive to Pharaoh. Pharaoh saw Yosef as a proficient provider, who ran the house of Potifar and was intelligent, honest, reliable, and this was refreshing.

Rav Shalom Schwadron ZT”L once gave a series of shiurim to not yet religious boys. When he noticed that a certain boy stopped coming, he went to his home to find out if there was a problem. The boy explained that he was a soccer player and practice for the playoffs was during the Rav’s classes. Rav Schwadron was a bit confused as to what this “soccer” was, so the boy explained how the team that scored the most goals won. Rav Shalom then asked him, “Why don’t you just go to the field at night when you can kick in all the goals you want?” The boy answered, “Because when there is no opposition, there is no meaning and challenge!” To which Rav Shalom said to the boy, “Coming to a shiur when there are no playoffs, is not as meaningful as coming when there is opposition!” The next day, the boy showed up to the shiur and Rav Shalom stood up for him when he walked into the room! This is a true leader and role model for us, that inspires people to grow and follow the right path.

May we always lead others through understanding them and where they are at, thereby helping them move forward in life.