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YIP Parsha Project Parshat Beha'aloscha

06/06/2014 01:30:11 PM


YIP Parsha Project

Beha'alosicha                                                                                                             Dovid Simpser

Looking at Parashat Beha'alosicha, we see Moshe as a kind, benevolent leader who seems to desire a shared leadership role, while in a few short weeks, in Parashat Korach, we see a very different side of Moshe. In Parashat Korach, when Moshe's leadership was challenged by Korach and his followers, he showed no kindness, but rather called for their utter destruction. What is the drastic change between this week's Parasha and the Parasha of Korach that causes such a colossal change in Moshe's response?

            In this week's Parasha we are shown Moshe in one his greatest moments of despair. The people are once again complaining, this time about the food. They are “tired” of being spoon-fed the fully satisfying manna. Rather they want to go out and catch meat instead. Moshe, appalled at Bnei Yisrael's disgusting ingratitude towards Hashem and continuous complaints, prayed to die. In response to this request, Hashem ordered Moshe to appoint seventy elders to aid him in the task of leading the nation. Moshe, without question, rushed to fulfill Hashem's will and upon appointment, the spirit of Hashem rested upon these seventy elders and also rested on two other men, Eldad and Medad, who were also caught up in the moment of divine inspiration.

            Seeing this secondary prophecy as a threat to the mechanism of the appointed elders, Yehoshua tried to convince Moshe that Eldad and Medad needed to be restrained. Moshe then replied with splendid magnanimity: ויאמר לו משה המקנא אתה לי ומי יתן כל עם יקוק נביאים כי יתן יקוק את רוחו עליהם: “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the L-rd’s people were prophets, and that the L-rd would put His spirit on them!”

            This contrasts sharply with his conduct later, when his leadership was challenged by Korach and his followers. On that occasion Moshe showed no gentleness or generosity. To the contrary, in effect he prayed that the ground would swallow them up, that “they go down alive into the realm of the dead.” He is sharp, decisive and unforgiving. Now with an understanding of the events at hand, one might expect Moshe to have a much less generous and benevolent response towards the giving of prophecy over to these extra individuals as he did with Korach and his followers. So the question remains, why the difference between Korach on the one hand, and Eldad and Medad on the other?

            To understand it, it is essential to grasp the difference between two concepts often confused, namely power and influence. We tend to think of them as similar, if not identical. People of power have influence. People of influence have power. But it is not so. The two are quite distinct, and operate by a different logic, as a simple thought experiment will show.

            Imagine you have total power. Whatever you say goes. Then, one day, you decide to share your power with nine others. You now have at best one-tenth of the power you had before. Now, imagine that you have a certain measure of influence. Then you decide to share that influence with nine others whom you make your partners. You now have ten times the influence you had before, because instead of just you, there are now ten people delivering the same message. Power works by division, influence by multiplication. Power, in other words, is a zero-sum game: the more you share, the less you have. Influence is a non-zero-sum game: the more you share, the more you have.

            Throughout his forty years at the head of the nation, Moses held two different leadership roles. He was a prophet, teaching the newly received Torah and communicating with Hashem. He was also the functional equivalent of a king, leading the people on their journeys, directing their destiny and supplying them with their needs. The only leadership role he did not have was that of Kohen Gadol, which went to his brother Aharon.

            Now we see exactly why Moses’ reaction was so different in the case of Eldad and Medad, and that of Korach and his followers. Eldad and Medad sought and received no power. They merely received the same influence; the divine spirit that emanated from Moses. They became prophets. That is why Moses said, “I wish that all the L-rd’s people were prophets and that the L-rd would put His spirit on them.” Prophecy is not a zero-sum game. When it comes to leadership as influence, the more we share the more we have.

            Korach and his followers solely sought power, and power is a zero-sum game. When it comes to malchut, the leadership of power, the rule is: “There is one leader for the generation, not two.” In kingship, a bid for power is an attempted coup d’état and has to be resisted by force. Otherwise the result is a division of the nation into two, as happened after the death of Melech Shlomo. Moshe could not let the challenge of Korach go undisputed without fatefully compromising his own authority.

            There is a great lesson to be learned from Moshe. When it came to leadership power, Moshe realized that as a divided nation, bnei Yisrael wouldn't be able to continue its existence. Therefore he  reacted with an iron fist, crushing any attempts at divide, for the sake of national preservation and the continuance of Bnei Yisrael. But when it came to Moshe's role as the leader in terms of prophecy and guidance, Moshe understood that the more people who have been connected with Hashem, the more people who can help guide and deliver Hashem's message to the nation. With every additional spiritually uplifted individual Moshe's impact is magnified exponentially.

            Not all of us have power, but we all have influence. That is why we can each be leaders. The most important forms of leadership come not with position, title or robes of office, not with prestige and power, but with the willingness to work with others to achieve what we cannot do alone; to speak, to listen, to teach, to learn, to treat other people’s views with respect even if they disagree with us, to explain patiently and cogently why we believe what we believe and do what we do; to encourage others, praise their best endeavors and challenge them to do better still. With power we empower ourselves, but with influence we empower the people around us. And with the help of all those around us we can change the world.


-Adapted from the teachings of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.


Dovid Simpser

Yeshivat Har Etzion (Gush)

132 Southern Parkway Plainview, NY 11803
Phone: (516) 433-4811
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Rabbi: Elie Weissman    ~    President: Brian Berns

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