Once, a chassid was waiting to see his Rebbe, hoping that the Rebbe would help him out of his spiritual malaise.

On one hand, he was very anxious to see his Rebbe for he felt that the Rebbe would provide him with the inspiration and the direction to jolt him out of his spiritual inertia. On the other hand, he hesitated. He knew that the Rebbe could read his mind and would detect all the undesirable thoughts that occurred to him from time to time.

He debated back and forth: Should he go to his Rebbe or shouldn’t he? Then he had a flash. G‑d also reads his thoughts and he is not embarrassed to stand in front of G‑d. If he can stand in front of G‑d, he can stand in front of his Rebbe.

With that resolve, he proceeded toward the Rebbe’s door. As he approached, the Rebbe stepped out of the door and told him: “G‑d is patient and I am not.”

A Rebbe is given his mantle of leadership because he can shake people out of the “I’ll do it tomorrow” mentality that holds them back from actively embracing their G‑dly purpose.

Parshas Pinchas

This week’s Torah reading contains a passage that sheds unique insight on the nature of Moses’ leadership qualities. G‑d tells Moses that the time has come for him to pass away. Moses’ response is not to ask anything for himself or for his children. Instead, he asks G‑d: “G‑d, L‑rd of spirits, appoint a man over the assembly.” At the moment of truth, he shows no self concern. His attention is focused solely on the welfare of his people.

This is the fundamental quality that distinguishes a Jewish leader. In general, leadership involves identifying with ideals and principles that transcend one’s own self. If all a person is selling is his own self, others will not identify with him so easily; for they are concerned with their own selves. Why should they nullify themselves before the other person?

Yes, they can be forced to accept authority or they can be bribed. But then, the person’s authority will be dependent on the strength of the stick or the flavor of the carrot. The people will have no inner connection to him.

What will inspire a person to willingly accept the authority of another? A purpose which both the leader and the follower recognize as greater than his self. When the leader espouses and identifies with an ideal that gives his life greater meaning and direction, he will be able to share this ideal with people at large. For every person is ultimately looking for something more in life than the fulfillment of his personal desires.

A Jewish leader, a Moses, transcends himself to a greater degree. First of all, he is not concerned with his own personal objectives — even as an afterthought. Many leaders, though concerned with a purpose beyond themselves, are still looking for their own payoff. They bear in mind their own honor, wealth, or self-interest. A Moses is not looking for that.

But most of all, the purpose with which a worldly leader identifies is still somewhat intertwined with his own self, for ultimately, what is a leader looking for? To make the world a better place for all the people living here. Although he is concerned for others besides himself, his ultimate goal is how to make his own life better. He merely has the vision to appreciate that his own life cannot be consummately good until the lives of others are also improved.

A Moses, by contrast, is concerned with G‑d’s purpose, not man’s. He wants to make the world a dwelling for Him, not merely a pleasant abode for mankind. Certainly, when G‑d’s dwelling is completed, it will also be very comfortable for man to live in, but that is not his purpose. He is concerned with G‑d’s objective, and the identification with that goal takes him beyond his personal self entirely and makes him the ultimate paradigm of leadership.

Looking to the Horizon

Our Sages identify Pinchas with Elijah the Prophet, the herald of the Redemption. They explain that Elijah’s function will be more than that of a bearer of news. He will also help inspire the mindset of love and harmony that will make Redemption a reality. Thus the prophet Malachi states that Elijah will “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers.” In the same vein, Maimonides writes that Elijah will come “solely to spawn peace.” For spreading peace and harmony will encourage Mashiach’s coming, creating a setting into which he will desire to enter.

This also serves as a lesson to all of us. Working to generate harmony in the microcosm in which we live will serve as a catalyst for the ultimate harmony Mashiach will introduce in the world.