The Function of a Leader
When Moshe Rabbeinu entreated Hashem to appoint a leader to succeed him, Hashem answered, “Before you command Me concerning My children, command My children concerning Me.” Moshe proceeded to a command the Jewish people concerning the laws of the daily and holiday sacrifices.
In order to understand this Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Bamidbar 228), we must first understand the function of a Torah leader. When the Jewish people feared that Moshe would not return from Har Sinai, they beseeched Aharon to make them a leader who would walk before them. They viewed a leader as one who goes “before,” accomplishing what his followers cannot. Thus when Moshe delayed they felt helpless and in need of a new intermediary.
But when Moshe requested that Hashem choose a leader to replace him, he described the leader as one “who will go out before them and who will bring them out and bring them in.” The leader was not to walk “before” the people, rather he was to remain in constant contact with them. He could 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 Gemara (Bava Basra 116anstant contact with them. He could 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 Gemara (Bava Basra116a) instructs us that when a family member is sick one should go to a sage and ask for mercy. Meiri explains that from the sage one learns the ways of prayer so that he himself can ask for mercy for his sick relative. The ideal is not that the sage pray in one’s place but that one learn from tMoshe was like the sun, that of Yehoshua like the moon. Woe for such a shame and such a disgrace.” Yehoshua faithfully reflected the light of Moses, as the moon reflects the sun, and thereby disgraced all who did not. Yehoshua showed 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 Moshe.
The Jewish leader has another crucial function uniting the people in a common cause. Korach contended that if the entire congregation is holy, then there is no need for a leader to rule over them. He presented his challenge with the homily of a tallis that is wholly techeles, which, he argued, should not require tzitzis. He contended that is a person is totally developed ethically, to the point where his clothing, his middos and honor are represented by the techeles of G-d’s throne, then the tzitzis, the reminders of the mitzvos, are superfluous. Similarly a leader, whose purpose is to coax and direct the people towards the proper goals, would also be unnecessary to one who is fully developed ethically.
Korach failed to appreciated the communal nature of Klal Yisrael, whose perfection is only reached through a united effort, one in which each Jew fulfills his unique role. The leader serves the function of an orchestra conductor, guiding each player so that the entire orchestra plays together. Even one who middos are perfect still needs a leader to show him how he can function and fulfill his part in harmony with the community.
Thus tzitzis are a reminder of all 613 mitzvos that the community as a whole is capable of performing, not the limited number of mitzvos any individual can perform.
Hashem told Moshe, “Before I appoint a leader to succeed you, first you must command the people concerning the sacrifices.” An appreciation of the necessity of communal striving necessarily preceded the appointment of a leader. Just as the korbanos of individuals only have meaning in the context of the person’s striving to draw closer to Hashem, so too, the communal sacrifices require the collective striving of Klal Yisrael for unity and harmony in service of Hashem. The Kohen is necessary for achieving this unity, but he cannot substitute for the striving of the people themselves. For this reason, representatives of the Levi’im and the Tribes also had to be present at the bringing of each of the communal sacrifices.
The greatness of our leaders is commensurate with the caliber of their followers. May we be on a level to appreciate authority and to emulate our leaders in order that they be as the leaders of old, culminating with our ultimate leader, Mashiach Tzidkeinu.