3 Tammuz 5772 / June 22-23, 2012
In this week’s portion, we find a revolt against Moses’s leadership led by a man named Korach, who with 250 prominent communal leaders by his side, challenged Moses (and Aaron) publicly.
In last week’s portion, Shlach Lecha, we read that the Israelites, despite being so close to the Promised Land, would not be permitted to enter it for 40 years – 1 year for each day the spies explored before returning with a fearful report.
Frankly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Moses would face a challenge to his leadership at this point. Moses's leadership had been based on his bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. He had done the former (with Divine assistance), but now it appeared that he was unable to do the latter, given that towards the end of last week's portion, we read that the Israelites marched into battle as a means of trying to appease God and were "dealt a shattering blow."
The Israelites, through Korah's rebellion, were questioning whether or not Moses was really the best leader to get the job done. They had just suffered a defeat at the hands of their enemies after refusing to accept that they would need to wander the desert for 40 years. They attacked despite being told that if they attacked, they would lose. While Moses’s prediction proved to be true, it wasn’t one that enhanced confidence in Moses's leadership abilities. Frankly, I would struggle with my faith too at that point, much like Korach and his followers.
The narrative raises a number of significant questions:
What makes for a successful leader?
What does a successful transfer of leadership / power look like?
What makes you lose faith in a leader, and how do you respond to such feelings?
The reality is that sometimes leadership changes are necessary. How they come about and how existing leaders are treated as they are replaced says a lot about an organization and/or community.
Many of us have leaders that we look up to in various areas of our lives, be they those running organizations, our rabbis, and even our elected officials. My guess is there have been moments when you were disappointed in those leaders – disappointed to find out that they are humans who make mistakes, just like you and I, and as a result, had your faith in the system or institutions they represent challenged. To feel such is natural. The true task becomes how to rebuild trust.
This Shabbat, reflect on those leaders you most admire. Note the character traits that resonate with you. Strive to incorporate those traits into your own character. Recognize we are only human. Strive to rebuild trust with those who have let you down. When it comes time to lead, do so with passion. When it comes time to step down, do so with dignity.