In this corner weighing in at 220 pounds, from the windy city of Chicago, with golden striped shorts, the king of sting, the master of disaster, Jefferson T. Rex – and in this corner weighing in at 125 pounds from the quaint village of Danzig with bifocals and a stringy white beard, known as the Tiferes Yisroel, Rav Yisroel Lipkin. Who are our icons, who are leaders, who are our Gedolim?
Directly from Heaven we have an insight into leadership. The leader of Israel is not necessarily the physically powerful, the politician, the charismatic, the diplomat or the genetic heir to the throne. The leader of Israel is the one who has a sense of Mesorah as it was presented by Moshe, who humbles himself to the Torah and to the people, who is willing to do even the most menial tasks and sacrifice his kovod for the kovod of Hashem. The leader of Israel is the ehrlicher Yid.
Moshe Rabeinu was approaching the final season of his life. He understood the importance of naming a successor in his lifetime. He understood that his successor must be chosen by G-d. In his heart he felt that one of his children should succeed him. Who could better take the place of Moshe Rabeinu than his own child who lived through every struggle of Egypt and the forty years of wandering? He grew up with it. Moshe’s children must have known the ins and outs and politics of every tribe and leader. Moshe’s children inherited his charisma, his character and even his looks. Moshe’s children rightfully should inherit the position of leadership of the Jewish people. Moshe prayed to Hashem “May the G-d of spirits choose a leader for the Children of Israel.” In his heart he prayed to G-d to choose his son as the future leader of the Jewish people.
The response: “Your thoughts, Moshe, are not My thoughts. You are thinking about your children but I am thinking about the Jewish people. I am not going to choose your son; I am going to choose your student Yehoshua! Yehoshua was always at your side. He took care of your every need. He was the first one up and the last one out of your teaching chamber. He always made sure that everything was in its right place and that everything was in order so that he and the elders of Israel could absorb your teachings in the best possible fashion. Yehoshua is the man! (Yalkut Shimoni Pinches 27, 676)
I’m reminded of a newspaper report by a secularist, H. Mauskopf, I once read of the first Knessiah Gedolah in 1923 in Vienna. Thousands of people were present. The electricity in the air heightened as the leader of European Jewry, the Chofetz Chaim, was about to arrive. The crowd began to push and sing, as the Chofetz Chaim was about to enter. Everyone rose to their feet, those with children put their children on their shoulders so that they too would catch a glimpse of the Tzadik. The secular press was there too and they were swept into the excitement of the moment. They had their cameras firmly focused on the door into which the Chofetz Chaim would enter. When the Chofetz Chaim entered one of the reporters was in shock. He expected a tall man, royally dressed with the posture of a warrior. Instead he found an old bent over man, 85 years old, less than five feet in height with a poor black coat and a plain black scarf around his neck. His gaze was a combination of awe and love and his demeanor was that of an angel. The writer wrote, “this must be how Hillel the Elder must have appeared.” He was a true leader – an “Ish asher ruach bo!” He was the Joshua of his time.
This concept must be integrated into our personal lives as well. Jews are different. We succeed “not with weapons nor with might but with ruchi, My spirit, so says G-d.” When big decisions must be made for our children or our community, our guide must be a sense of Torah, a sense of history, a sense of spirituality accompanied by midos tovos. When we choose role models and extol characteristics in our home it’s not the athlete or the war hero that must be placed on the wall or in our Shabbos table discussions but the Torah and a profound understanding of our past and our future.
Our leaders are a reflection of our inner selves and the attitudes of Klal Yisroel. May we merit true leadership and Eretz Yisroel with true peace.