We live in very bizarre times, where supposed leaders of World Powers are often people we would not want our children to view as role models, given some of the crass comments they have made, or scandalous behaviour they have engaged in. And sometimes, in the circus that is 21st century world politics, we wonder what a leader should look like.
Rabbi Yechezkel of Shinova, or the Shinover Rav as he was known, focuses on a rather odd-looking verse in this week’s parshah. Moshe was concerned about the welfare of his people after his death. He tells Hashem that he does not want the Jewish people to be כצאן אשר אין להם רועה ‘like a flock (of sheep), that does not have a shepherd’ (Bamidbar 27:17).
No doubt you, the eagle-eyed reader, have just raised your eyebrows when you saw the comma in that sentence. Well, they’re about to go up higher. You see, that was not a typo! If the Torah were to be talking about a single flock that lacked a shepherd, it surely would have said כצאן שאין להם רואה!
Strangely, The Torah appears to be suggesting that farmers tend to raise their sheep without the help of a shepherd. But that was certainly not the case, at least not then!
The Shinover Rav’s answer sums up the Torah’s definition of a leader. True, each responsible farmer needs a good shepherd to ensure that the sheep are well fed and cared for. But the shepherd’s job is not to care about the sheep. Come the end of the season, the sheep will be fleeced for its wool or killed for its meat. Moshe did not want a corrupt politician to lead the Jewish people. His criteria for a leader was simple: He had to be someone who cared for the people and the people only.
In the Jewish world, leaders do not require multi-million dollar campaigns to impress people. in fact, our Gedolei Hador (Great men of the generation) have zero interest in becoming public figures. Given a choice, they would rather be left alone to study Torah all day uninterrupted. But figures like Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the latter of whom has a 3 digit age, avail themselves to the public daily, often pushing the limits of their health to do so.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef OBM was once in the midst of a desperate search for a Halachic permit that would allow a woman whose husband had permanently disappeared to remarry, when he suffered a major heart attack and collapsed. When the Rabbi regained consciousness in the ambulance, he insisted that he be returned back home. Only when he had been able to find the answer that the poor woman needed did he allow his family and the paramedics to take him to the hospital.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM was once given a gift: an automatic letter opener to assist him with the countless letters that came through his letter box. But he never used it. “If a Jew writes a letter to me in tears” said the Rebbe, “How can I callously rip it open?”
Looking for a shepherd? Look for someone with authority. Looking for a leader? Look for someone with authority who puts his people first!