In Parashat Pinchas, through two different events, we see the qualities that are necessary for a leader of Bnei Yisra’el. When Moshe is told of his approaching departure, he wants to make sure there will be a proper leader to take over his job. The Pesukim state, (BeMidbar 27:15-17): “VaYedabeir Moshe El Hashem Leimor Yifkod Hashem Elokei HaRuchot LeChol Basar Ish Al HaEidah Asher Yeitzei Lifneihem VaAsher Yavo Lifneihem VaAsher Yotzi’eim VaAsher Yevi’eim VeLo Tihyeh Adat Hashem KaTzon Asher Ein LaHem Ro’eh,” “Moshe spoke to Hashem saying, ‘May Hashem, God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and who shall bring them in; and let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd.’” The Sfat Emet comments that in truth, the real shepherd of Bnei Yisrael is Hashem. This is shown in Sefer BeReishit (48:15) when Yaakov, on his deathbed, blesses Yosef, “HaElokim HaRo’eh Oti MeiOdi Ad HaYom HaZeh,” “God who shepherds me from my inception until this day.” Furthermore, the Pasuk in Tehilim states (23:1), “Hashem Ro’i,” “Hashem is my shepherd.” Similarly, in the Tefillah of the Yamim Nora’im, Ashkenazic Jews compare the relationship between Hashem and us to the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep, as can be seen in the paragraph of “Ki Anu Amecha.”
Therefore, it is dependent upon the Tzaddikim and the leaders of Am Yisrael to show that Hashem is always there – the Shepherd is Chai VeKayam, living and existing. Hashem is omnipresent in our lives, and He is always watching His children even in the hardest of times. But, when Kelal Yisrael doesn’t have proper leaders who reveal Hashem’s presence in the people’s eyes when He is hidden, then it is similar to the shepherd abandoning his flock. The Sfat Emet explains that this is the Kavanah, intention, of Moshe Rabbeinu: “Appoint for them a leader that will guide them in finding You and Your continuous presence in their daily lives, in order for them to know that they have a Shepherd, because we don’t want them to think that there is no Shepherd.”
This is similar to the actions of Pinchas at the beginning of the Parashah. Pinchas witnesses Bnei Yisrael’s downfall and realizes that there is no leader for them to follow; at that time, he steps up to the plate and makes it known to them that their actions are disgraceful to the way Kelal Yisrael’s behavior is supposed to be. Bnei Yisrael are sinning to the extent that they forget all about Hashem. Pinchas understands this, embraces the challenge, and takes an active step to change this attitude. The message learned from his actions reminds Bnei Yisrael of our Shepherd and is a valuable lesson for all leaders of our nation.