In Parashat Pinchas, we read about the inauguration of a new leader for the Bnei Yisrael. Moshe asks Hashem, “Yifkod Hashem Elokei HaRuchot LeChol Basar Ish Al HaEidah” “‘May Hashem, God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly” (BeMidbar 27:16). This man that Moshe is requesting would replace him and lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael.
Another incident of the same origin is found in Shmuel Aleph. Wanting a strong leader, Bnei Yisrael cry out to Shmuel, “Simah Lanu Melech LeShofteinu KeChol HaGoyim” “Appoint a king for us, to judge us, like all the nations” (Shmuel Aleph 8:5). There are many differences, however, between Moshe’s request for a successor and the people’s request for a king. A major difference is that Hashem supported Moshe’s request, but did not support the people’s plea for a king. In response to their plea, Hashem says, “Oti Ma’asu MiMeloch Aleihem” “‘It is Me whom they have rejected from reigning over them” (8:7). Another distinction, pointed out by Degel Machaneh Ephraim, is in the phrasing of the request. Moshe uses the phrase “Al HaEidah,” over the assembly. The people say that the king should be “Lanu,” “for us.” They want to be able to persuade their king to act as they wish, while Moshe is emphasizing that the new leader must be someone who will not be easily persuaded by the people. The leader must be the one influencing them. Hashem responds with the perfect person for the job: Yehoshua.
Yehoshua past plays a major role in his selection as the new leader of Bnei Yisrael. In Parashat Shelach, the Torah relates the story of the Meraglim. Twelve spies were sent out to investigate Eretz Yisrael, and they were to bring back a report of their findings. Yehoshua and Caleiv, two of these spies, were the only ones to return from Eretz Yisrael with a positive report, encouraging the nation to trust in Hashem. Although they could not convince the Bnei Yisrael of their claim, they were not swayed by the people’s complaints and arguments, up to the point when the people were ready to stone them. Even when faced with the possibility of death, Yehoshua did not back down in his faith in Hashem. This is the kind of leader that Moshe, with Hashem’s support, wished to choose for the Bnei Yisrael.
In Shmuel Aleph, Bnei Yisrael ask for a leader who can be influenced by them. In response to their request, they receive Sha’ul. When told by Hashem to destroy all of Amaleik, Shaul lets their livestock and king live. Regarding this, the Pasuk states, “VaYachmol Shaul VeHaAm Al Agag VeAl Meitav HaTzon…VeLo Avu Hacharimam” “Shaul, as well as the people, took pity on Agag, and on the best of the sheep…and they were not willing to destroy them” (15:9). Why does the Pasuk mention the people; wasn’t Sha’ul the leader? This phrasing in the Pasuk teaches us that the people pressured Shaul to have mercy on Agag and the animals. Sha’ul himself later admits to having listened to the people in his confession to Shmuel. He says, “Yareiti Et HaAm VaEshma BeKolam” “I feared the people, and I listened to their voice” (15:24). Sha’ul was a very passive character; he was influenced by the people, rather than influencing them. This was the exact leader the people had asked for, and this is the leader they received. This is the distinction between their request and Moshe’s and the reason why Hashem was disappointed with Bnei Yisrael’s plea, but was immediately supportive when Moshe asked for a new leader. The difference in request rears its ugly head later: Hashem eventually regrets having made Shaul a king, but is happy with Yehoshua’s leadership.
This teaches us an important lesson about leadership. A true leader must be careful to never be influenced by others to do the wrong thing. One might even go so far as to apply this to every Jew: We must all be careful not to listen to something just because many people do it. We should do what we know is right, simply because it is right.
This article was written in loving memory of my grandmother, Dreizel Bas Meir, on her first Yahrtzeit.