Former Bnei Akiva Shaliach
Currently Bnei Akiva Limmud Director and Head of Australian Desk
A Sustainable Model of Leadership – Moshe versus Eliyahu
In the beginning of Parshat Pinchas we read that Hashem promises Pinchas a reward for his great act of leadership. Pinchas’ act of zealotry – stabbing a prince of Israel and a Midianite princess, in order to sanctify Hashem’s name – saved the Jewish people and stopped the plague that Hashem had set upon them (Bamidbar 25:8).
That act is the only act of leadership that we know of by Pinchas. He is not a long term leader, and he takes no further part in leading the Jewish people. His short time in the leadership limelight reflects an act of passion and devotion to Hashem – An act of quick judgement and fury.
In the middle of the Parsha we read about another act of leadership, when Moshe appoints a successor. Moshe asks Hashem to appoint “a man who has spirit” (27:18). Rashi explains this phrase: “A person in whom there is the spirit of Hashem, who knows how to treat each person according to his own spirit.” Moshe wants a leader who can approach every person according to their special individual needs.
These two acts of leadership – Pinchas’s zealous act, and Moshe looking for a replacement who can relate to each individual on their own level, presents us with two opposing models of leadership, and to emphasize the difference I will discuss the Haftara of Parshat Pinchas – The story of Eliyahu Hanavi (Kings 1 18:1 – 19:21).
Eliyahu has just won the most decisive victory a prophet of Hashem could ever hope for. He competed against 450 prophets of Baal (an ancient Canaanite god) in a public contest on Mount Carmel. All of Am Yisrael were gathered at the bottom of the mountain and were waiting to see who could invoke their god to send down fire from Heaven. Baal’s prophets prayed, screamed, and tore at their flesh, but to no avail. Finally, Eliyahu stood up at Mincha time, whispered a silent prayer, and lo and behold, fire came down from Heaven and consumed the sacrifices that were on top of his altar. All of Am Yisrael saw this miracle and cried out “Hashem is God, Hashem is God”.
But not one day passes, and Achav, the king of Israel, goes back and tells his wicked wife, Izevel, what happened on the mountain. Izevel gives an order to have Eliyahu killed. No one comes to his aid. Am Yisrael had seen the miracles and were impressed at that specific moment, but when they went back home, they went back to their old sins and evil deeds.
At that moment Eliyahu just wants to give up and die. Hashem convinces him to go to “the mountain of Hashem” where he has one of the most famous prophecies in the Tanach:
“And behold Hashem was passing, a great strong wind smashing mountains and breaking rocks, Hashem is not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake, Hashem is not in the earthquake, after the earthquake came fire, Hashem is not in the fire. After the fire came a still silent moment.” (19:11-12).
Hashem teaches Eliyahu the ideal leadership model. How does Hashem run His world? Not in the loud spectacles or in the grand events. Belief in Hashem doesn’t appear when fire comes out of the sky, because Hashem isn’t in the fire. Hashem’s leadership in the world is through the small still moments, when man feels something move within him, and is inspired to look for something more spiritual – When man seeks Divine inspiration.
The Zohar teaches us that “Eliyahu and Pinchas are the same persona”. They are both like fire. Eliyahu goes up to Heaven in a storm, and Pinchas merits a place in the Torah because of one swift act. They are both leaders who work through storm, fire and powerful wind, but they do not show the sensitivity or patience to deal with confused and scared people. Eliyahu could not understand how people who saw fire come down from Heaven didn’t believe in Hashem and change their lifestyle. The prophecy teaches him that Hashem is not found in one great moment, but rather finding Hashem and coming close to him is a long journey, a process of searching, facing challenges, failing and ultimately recognizing Him in the small every day events. In order to lead the Jewish people, one needs to lead each individual in their own journey to finding Hashem. That is why Moshe, who understands this ideal leadership model, begged Hashem for a leader who would be able to understand that every Jew is different and everyone needs different treatment.
Eliyahu and Pinchas led the people for fleeting moments. They were very memorable moments, but they were over in the blink of an eye. Leadership cannot be based on fury, zealotry, or impatience. Moshe and Yehoshua guided the people through their formative years, leading them out of Egypt and into Eretz Yisrael. Such leadership demands from the leader kindness, sensitivity, and an individual approach to each follower.
I wish for us all to be leaders Like Moshe and Yehoshua – To succeed in relating to each person around us in his or her own special way.