"May the LORD, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd." Numbers 27:16-17
The Torah portion for this week is Pinchas, which means "Phinehas," from Numbers 25:10-30:1, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 18:46-19:21.
Larry Bossidy, former CEO of General Electric, once shared a story about lessons he learned in leadership. He told how when he was a manager at General Electric, he was very capable, but that he didn't have much experience. That lack of experience kept him from advancing for a while. Larry promised himself that if he ever made it to a leadership position, he would hire capable, but inexperienced managers, just to prove that lack of experience was not a hindrance. Larry made it to a leadership role and did just that - and it was a dismal failure. As Larry discovered, one can only lead others in areas where they have been themselves.
In this week's Torah portion, we see the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Moses prayed to God, "May the LORD . . . appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in . . ." What did Moses mean by "go out and come in before them" and "lead them out and bring them in"? Wouldn't it have been enough to ask God for a competent leader and leave it at that?
The Jewish sages explain Moses' words. Moses specified that the leader must come and go before the people. In other words, the leader must be someone who was ahead of the people spiritually. Only then could he lead them on their own spiritual journey. Moses requested a leader who could "lead them out" of corruption and "bring them in" to holiness. Such a leader must have the experience of doing so for himself; only then could he lead the nation of Israel.
Experience is a very powerful tool - perhaps the most powerful of them all. Any leader can only lead as far as he or she has gone themselves. There is no substitute for experience.
You don't have to be the CEO of a corporation, a leader of your church, or the head of an organization in order to powerfully lead others. Whether we know it or not, we are all leaders. We lead by example for all those around us. Whether we are an employee in the workplace, a parent, a teacher, or simply a member of a community, we all have powerful experiences that we can use to help others through similar challenges. Once we've been through a difficulty and have overcome it, we are uniquely poised to lead others through their own perilous times.
Who might you be able to mentor or lead today? Undoubtedly, life has taught you some invaluable lessons. Help those who are where you once were to get to the place where you are now.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President