Moshe the Quintessential Leader
Parashat Pinchas
By Rabbi Moshe Aberman
Former Rosh Kollel (Chicago, 1997-99)

Great leadership is often measured by actions taken at times of crisis. George Washington is remembered primarily for leading the thirteen colonies in their war of independents against the mighty British Army. Similarly, the focal point of David Ben Gurion’s leadership is the declaration of independence and winning the war that followed. Winston Churchill is remembered as the leader who led the British people and helped them keep their heads high up during the hard times of World War II. Similarly, if asked what comes to mind when the name of King David is mentioned, most people would not mention the establishment of Jerusalem as the national capital nor would they refer to writing the book of Psalms. Most people would intuitively speak of his standing up and slaying the mighty Goliath.

Yet when trying to identify the true colors and deep personality of a leader, or for that matter, any person, it is often in the small and private moments that they present themselves.
Moshe Rabeinu displayed some significant leadership traits when leading several million people out of Egypt into the unknown wilderness. He exhibited other elements of his leadership when he stood up and argued with G-d himself, when he wished to annihilate the Israelites and start over with Moshe’s descendants. However, Moshe’s true personality and commitment to Am Yisrael reflects itself in an almost hidden section of our Parasha.
After conquering the East Bank of the Jordan and being commanded with the dividing of the land of Israel, Moshe has good reason to think he has been forgiven and will be allowed to lead the nation into the promised land[1].

Therefore, G-d commands Moshe to go up the mountain where he will see the entire land of Israel and then die. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin, known as the Netziv, points out that though Moshe is informed of his death at this time, its implementation will occur sometime later[2]. Hence, Moshe has time to prepare for his death. What would we expect him to do in response to being told he will die and not enter the land?
It is reasonable to expect Moshe to attempt once more to pray for an opportunity to enter the land. Even if it should be assumed that Moshe understands such prayers would be futile, we would expect Moshe to begin his monumental farewell speech. However, Moshe responds differently.
Moshe’s first response is to beseech God to appoint an appropriate leader to replace him. Moshe is not concerned for himself or about making that final mark in history. Moshe is concerned for the well-being of Am Yisrael and the continuity of its leadership in the future. Therefore, when G-d presents his intent to appoint Yehoshua the next leader, Moshe immediately acts on this plan to appoint a recognized leader who will guaranty continuity of leadership.

Moshe, who was initially reluctant to accept the leadership of Am Yisrael turns that leadership into the heart and soul of his being.