This Torah reading relates that after G‑d told Moses to ascend to Mount Nebo to die, Moses asked G‑d to appoint a leader for the people. Often, emphasis is placed on the fact that in this moment, Moses showed the ultimate self-sacrifice. He did not think of himself at all, but instead, asked G‑d to care for His people. In addition to this general lesson, however, the particular dimensions of Moses’ request are also significant.

Moses addresses G‑d as: “G‑d of the spirits of all flesh.” He appeals to the dimension of G‑dliness that understands and relates to the fleshy aspects of the people. For the leader must motivate the people, not only when they are spiritually inspired — then it’s easy to lead — but as they exist within the context of their day-to-day reality.

The commentaries add a further point: Mentioning “the spirits of all flesh” alludes to the necessity for the leader to relate to the spirit of every one of the people. There are often leaders who appeal to a given strata of society and that strata alone. A true Jewish leader finds a way to get through to every member of the people.

Moses states that the leader must “go out before them and come in before them” — i.e., not closet himself in an ivory tower and give directives, but meet the people on their own playing field. And he must be the first to do so. Whether it be in confronting the challenges of war or wrestling with internal matters that challenge the people, the leader must be on the front lines, seeing and dealing with the issues.

And Moses concludes by asking: “May the assembly of G‑d not be like sheep without a shepherd.” This is a prayer for the people themselves, i.e., not only that G‑d appoint a leader for them, but that He give the people the awareness to accept the leader that He appoints.

Looking to the Horizon

Our Rabbis identify Pinchas with the prophet Elijah, the messenger of the Redemption. When the prophet Malachi describes Elijah’s return to announce the coming of the Redemption, he states that Elijah will “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers.” Similarly, when the Rambam describes Elijah’s mission, he states that “he will come solely to establish peace.” For one of the fundamental breakthroughs of the era of Mashiach is that it will be an era of peace. Indeed, competition and greed, the inner motivators for strife and friction will cease. Looking back, people will be amazed that in the history of mankind, there was once a time when there were wars, theft, and interpersonal discord. For such matters will be utterly unthinkable in that future era.