(HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, a grandson of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
When Leaders Must be Gentle and When They Must be be Firm – And The Leader Within Us
In this week’s Parashah we will read about last war that Moshe led Am Yisrael in. He commanded them to go out and battle Midyan. When they returned from battle is states, “Am Yisrael took captive all the Midyanite women and their children. They took as booty, all their animals, all their possessions, and all their wealth” (Bamidbar 31:9). Meaning, they reaped a huge booty and within this the Midyanite women who Am Yisrael didn’t kill and didn’t drive away, but brought them back.
Moshe went out to great Bnei Yisrael, for they were all his children and students, but to his anguish Moshe saw the booty which they brought. As it states, “Moshe, Elazar and all the community princes went out to greet them outside the camp. However, Moshe was angry with the generals and captains…’Why have you kept all the women alive?’ Demanded Moshe. They are exactly the ones who were involved with Yisrael at Bilam’s instigation, causing them to be unfaithful to Hashem in the Peor incident, and bringing a plague on Hashem’s community” (ibid. 31:13-16)
Moshe was angry with Am Yisrael, why had they brought the Midyanite women? Bilam had previously advised (Parashat Balak) to incite Bnei Yisrael to sin with the Midyanite daughters. Due to that sin 24,000 died. If so, how could it enter Am Yisrael’s minds to bring the Midyanite daughters to the camp. Won’t this chas veshalom cause sin and punishment for Am Yisrael!
After this it states in the Parashah, “Elazar the Cohen said to the soldiers returning from the campaign: This is the rule that Hashem commanded Moshe” (ibid. 31:21). Here Elazar the Cohen taught the laws of immersing utensils and removing kosher food absorbed in them (tevilat keilim and kashering keilim).
Our chachamim said (Pesachim 66b), Resh Lakish said, any person who gets angry, if he is a chacham his wisdom departs from him. How do we know this? From Moshe, as it states, “Moshe was angry with the generals and captains”. And it further states, “Elazar the Cohen said to the soldiers returning from the campaign: This is the rule that Hashem commanded Moshe”. Why did Elazar teach and not Moshe? Because at that moment these halachot illuded Moshe!
It should be noted however, that the levels on which these people were on is impossible for us to fathom. Moshe was Hashem’s chosen one and no one has arisen like Moshe. Despite this, our chachamim reveal to us a point for reflection or, at the very least, a realistic fact. That after Moshe was angry, even though his intention was for the sake of Heaven, nevertheless, according to his tremendous level, since he could have told Am Yisrael that what they had done was wrong, without getting angry at them, therefore the halachah illuded him.
Later in the Parashah we read about the children of Gad and Reuven who politely requested from Moshe Rabbeinu that he give them the land of Sichon. This was because they had a lot of livestock, sheep and cattle, and that land was lush with greenery. So they requested not to cross the Joran river and to stay in the land of Sichon. Then Moshe responded loudly and very harshly, “Why should your brothers go out and fight while you stay here? Why are you trying to discourage Am Yisrael from crossing over to the land that Hashem has given them? …Now you are taking your fathers’ places as a band of sinners, and bring yet more of Hashem’s wrath against Am Yisrael!” (Bamidbar 32:6-7,14)
Moshe was so firm that our chachamim in the Midrash were amazed, why would Moshe rebuke the children of Gad and Reuven so harshly. Moshe was after all the humblest of people. So why did he apply such harshness to rebuke his people in this way?
We must also consider that earlier when Moshe got angry with Am Yisrael for brining the Midyanite daughters, our chachamim taught us that many halachot alluded him. Yet here immediately after this episode with the children of Gad and Reuven he teaches us the laws of “making contractual conditions” and many other halachot, nothing alluded him. So why the difference?
Our chachamim explain in the Midrash as follows. Naturally Moshe was a very harsh person but his whole life he controlled himself and perfected his character. However, when the situation demanded, he was able to be animated, and he was the harshest of people in order to keep his flock on the straight and narrow.
Therefore, when Moshe realised that the desire for money motivated the children of Gad and Reuven - and he knew that their staying in Sichon will cause Am Yisrael’s hearts to fear and tremble due to the pending battles that they will engage with in Eretz Israel - then Moshe understood that he must sternly scold them. This was to save them from the malaise that was taking root in them, and he called them “a band of sinners”. In this instance Moshe was absolutely correct. Therefore not only was there no issue with him being angry, on the contrary, immediately he was able to continue to lead Am Yisrael and teach them Torah!
From here we learn the path of a true leader. Generally to be exceedingly humble, but when the situation demands it, he must muster all his energy to sternly scold and put people in their place! [There are halachot guiding the parameters for rebuke and these should be carefully studied.]
Every virtue and situation has its appropriate time and place. The concept of a leader is not just referring to a leader of all of Am Yisrael, but to each and every person. He is a leader in his home. Every mother guides her household. Anyone who leads is required to think clearly and to steady the flock on safe shores!