Daniel D. Stuhlman

Parashat Beha’alotcha and Leadership

One message that I have tried to express in all of my divrei torah in the business lesson is the importance of leadership. One of the themes of sefer Bamidbar is leadership.  Not every action of a leader is perfect.  Sometimes leaders must make difficult decisions that hurt one group so that the company or group may survive.  Sometimes the leaders fail and must be replaced.  What happens when a leader fails in his/her primary mission?  What kinds of consequences should the mistakes of a leader face?  Leadership is a responsibility that includes watching out for the majority and minority opinions.  Leadership requires listening to ideas that may conflict and orchestrating compromises for win-win solutions.

In chapter 11 we read about the murmuring of the people who complained about the food in the dessert so much that it was “evil.”  God sent a fire that destroyed part of the camp.  I heard this week on the KINS Daytime Dialogues guest Batya  Sargon Ungar (not yet available online) the idea that dialog between people of different beliefs is better than trying to get everyone to agree with you.  The people complained about not getting meat or fish to eat. I am not sure if their transgression was not trusting God to providing sustenance, complaining in a way resembling rebellion, or having a lust for meat that overwhelmed the mission.

In Chapter 12 Moshe and his sister Miriam spoke against their brother’s wife.  Her name is not mentioned here, but we assume she was Zipporah as no other wife was mentioned for Moshe.  While I have read many stories of people who didn’t like their sibling’s spouse or of parents not approving of the marital choice of a child, this disagreement seems out of place.  Moshe met and married his wife in Midian.  The union was blessed by her father, and he was one of Moshe’s mentors and teachers.   If God himself trusted Moshe, why should Aaron and Miriam question the loyalty and devotion of their brother.  Even if they had a personality clash, their duty was to support Moshe’s leadership and the Divine will. If they didn’t like the wife because she had dark skin or came from a strange place, they had an obligation to accept her.  Zipporah was not a leader like Moshe, Aaron, and Miriam.  They were great leaders, but only Moshe could speak face-to-face with God.

The spies (meraglim) failed to understand the uniqueness of the land of Israel just as Miriam and Aaron failed to understand the uniqueness and their brother.  Leadership talent is a special gift that must be developed through education and experience.  The people must give their leaders the tools and authority to lead. There is a triad that a leader needs to succeed – 1) personality, education, and experience; 2) authority granted by the people; and 3) reverence to God and higher authorities.

Discussion questions

  1. How do we balance that all people are created in the image of God, yet each of us has special gifts?
  2. Discuss how the ideas of “light among the nations” clashes with removing idolatry and ignorance from the world.
  3. How can we have free choice and still walk in the ways of God? How do we balance obeying the law and free will?
About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.