Posts Tagged 'nature of leadership'


When we think of leadership we often run to the image of Nachshon ben Aminadav. According to the Midrash, Nachshon initiated the splitting of the Red Sea by walking in head deep. Going it alone is clearly one style of leadership, but I think Shelach, this week’s Torah portion, offers us another important model for bringing about change. Here we see the twelve spies return to give their report about the Land. After ten give a negative report, we read, ” And Caleb stilled the people toward Moses, and said: ‘We should go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.'” ( Numbers 13:30) At this point the other spies shout Caleb down and instill a deep fear into the people. In response to this we read that:

And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Yefuneh, who were of them that spied out the land, rent their clothes. And they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then God will bring us into this land, and give it to us–a land which flows with milk and honey. Only rebel not against the Lord, neither fear you the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their defense is removed from over them, and the Lord is with us; fear them not.’ But all the congregation bade stone them with stones, when the glory of the Lord appeared in the tent of meeting unto all the children of Israel.” ( Numbers 14: 6-10)

While it took a certain kind of bravery for Caleb and Nachshon to put themselves out there, it takes another kind of leadership to follow. Recently a colleague shared with me a wonderful video that highlights the importance of being the first follower. Please watch:

In another post I will explore this issue through the lens of the character of Yehudah who both Caleb and Nachshon are  decedents, but for now I want to end by saying that it is noteworthy that it is Joshua and not Caleb who goes on to succeed Moses as the leader of the people. There is what to learn from other styles of leadership. We need to move away from just talking about leadership and also start talking about the significance of followership.


Leading in Absence

With the close of VaYakel Pikkudei, this week’s Torah Portion, we read about the completion and consecration of the Tabernacle and conclude reading the book of Exodus. We read,

So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of God filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:33-38)

Why does the book end with this image? What is the meaning behind Moses not being able to enter the sacred space when the cloud is present?

The protagonist of most of the book of Exodus is a Levite who was raised in the house of the Egyptians and then spends his formative years as a shepherd for a Midianite priest. While Moses is homeless and caught between cultures, his charge is to bring the Israelites back home to the land of Canaan. Here we see the paradigm of Jewish history oscillating between survival and sovereignty, struggling in the galut, exile. But, it is in the exile itself that Moses is at home as a leader.

Here, at the end of Exodus, God periodically settles in their midst giving the Israelites a sense of what it will be like when they have a homeland and permanent residence for God in the Temple. Moses’s exile from the Tabernacle when it is stationary foreshadows his not joining his people in the Promised Land. The leader will not be able to join them when he has accomplished his mission. This points to a valuable lesson on the nature of leadership. It is the temptation of leaders to create systems around themselves that are completely dependent on them. Here it seems that Moses needs to be taught that  just the opposite is true. A good leader knows when to back off and let others take the lead.

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