Once, one of the New York State Senators asked for a private meeting (yechidus) with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. After speaking with the Rebbe for a little over an hour, he emerged from the Rebbe’s office quite excited. “I never realized what a great man your Rebbe is,” he told Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe’s personal secretary.

He explained that he had asked to see the Rebbe to seek his guidance concerning certain issues involving the Jewish community. After the Rebbe had advised him with regard to these matters, the Rebbe asked if he could ask the senator a favor.

“Here it comes, I thought to myself,” he told Rabbi Groner. “Just like all the others, the Rebbe is also looking for a payoff. But what did the Rebbe ask me?”

“There is,” the Rebbe said, “a growing community in Chinatown. These people are quiet, reserved, hard working and law-abiding, the type of citizens most countries would treasure. But because Americans are so outgoing and those residents are, by nature, reserved, they are often overlooked by government programs. As a senator from New York, I would suggest that you concern yourself with their needs.”

“I was overwhelmed. The Rebbe has a community of thousands in New York who could benefit from government programs, and he has institutions all over the country for which I am in a position to help secure funding. But the Rebbe didn’t ask about that. He was concerned with Chinatown. I don’t think he has ever been there, and I’m certain that most people there don’t know who he is, but he cares about them. Now that’s a true leader!”

Parshas Korach

It’s a typical American trait to support the underdog, so there are many of us who might have rooted for Korach in his confrontation with Moses described in this week’s Torah reading. Moreover, Korach stood for the people. He protested: “The entire nation is holy and G‑d is among them. Why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of G‑d?”

Why didn’t Moses agree with Korach? And why did G‑d support Moses totally, bringing about a unique miracle to destroy Korach and his following?

To understand this story, we have to focus on two different approaches of leadership. One approach is based on charisma. Such a leader attracts people because he shines; he projects an image of a more exciting future. Korach was rich, he told good jokes and he promised the people better stakes. And so, many gullible people ran after him.

Moses was tongue-tied and had trouble communicating. The people found it difficult to understand him. Nevertheless, they knew that Moses spoke G‑d’s truth. His source of strength was not his personal self, but rather his ability to transcend himself.

The dissonance between the feelings he inspired led to an approach-avoidance conflict. Because Moses didn’t promise them glitter, they weren’t overly excited about his message. On the other hand, they realized — and were constantly reminded about this by G‑d — that Moses was G‑d’s messenger. He wasn’t speaking his own words; he was saying what G‑d wanted him to say.

What this seems to imply is that Korach is attractive, but Moses is right. So if I’m looking for excitement, I’ll choose Korach. And if I’ll choose Moses, it will be with a kind of drab attitude of, “Well, this is what’s going to be, so I might as well resign myself to it.”

Moses deserves more than that. A Korach-style leader caters to his followers in a superficial manner. He offers them shiny perks — immediate gratification. He will not make the investment of energy necessary to penetrate to a follower’s core.

A Moses is different. He is concerned with empowering his followers to discover and fulfill their mission in life. Every person was created with a unique G‑d-given purpose. A Moses does not give a person quick answers and ready solutions. Instead, he motivates him to penetrate to the depths of his being and understand G‑d’s intent for him.

True, this requires a person to look beyond his immediate horizons. He has to think not of what makes him feel good at the moment, but of what is genuinely right and true. That’s a lot more challenging, but ultimately a lot more gratifying. For if something is right and true, even though it may require some immediate sacrifice, it will certainly lead to the person’s good. Moreover, that good will be continuous, existing not only for the moment, but for the future.

Moses gives people a long-term vision that enables them to live their lives with depth, purpose, and joy. He spurs the kind of happiness that wells up from within when you do something that has meaning. Instead of looking for an immediate high, a Moses person thinks about the goals he is living for. And the awareness of that mission endows him with vitality and joy. He is excited about living his daily life because every act he performs resounds with significance; there’s genuine value in what he is doing.

In every generation, we can find leaders who are Korachs and Moseses. Similarly, each one of us can be a Moses or a Korach — for in our homes, in our workplaces, and among our friends — all of us act as leaders at one time or another. When exercising this leadership potential, we should not focus on self-interest — neither our own or that of the people we are trying to impress — but on the higher purposes that are involved. This is the motif spawned by the leadership Moses teaches.

Looking to the Horizon

The issue of leadership also relates to the era of the Redemption. For that era will not be merely a time when mankind reaches its fulfillment. It will be the era of Mashiach. One man, Mashiach, will initiate the changes that will encompass mankind as a whole.

Why will we follow Mashiach? Not because of charisma, and certainly not because of campaign promises. We will follow Mashiach because he has a message of truth. What he says will hit home and we will recognize that this is man’s goal and purpose. For when a person comes face to face with the truth, he recognizes it. Indeed, the truth empowers us and lifts us to its level, awakening within us the potential to have it realized as fact. This is the key to Mashiach’s leadership.