Leadership is a crucial issue throughout society today. In all walks of life, be it business, politics, social relations, we are looking for leaders, people of vision who can motivate others to focus their energies on a goal and work to attain it.

It’s almost too simplistic to say, but the most important aspect of being a leader is the ability to motivate followers. A person can be intelligent, diligent, and full of character virtues, but if he or she cannot get through to others, he or she will not be an effective leader. But how does one get through to others? The oft-tried approach is to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

We all have basic desires: for money, for physical satisfaction, for honor. There are some aspiring leaders who play to these wants, promising — or implying — that accepting their leadership will enable a follower to achieve these ends.

Every once in a while in history, we find leaders of an entirely different nature. They appeal to the highest common denominator, teaching their people to focus on values and principles that transcend their individual selves. Their message communicates: partially, because of their awesome personal integrity, the values that they preach are those that they live by and partially, because the truth of our being is not our petty desires, but our souls that are an actual part of G‑d. When a leader is able to express his inner G‑dly potential, he sparks a desire within his people for them to express theirs.

This is the background against which the rebellion of Korach against Moses described in our Torah reading is played out. Korach comes to Moses with a genuine complaint: “The entire congregation is holy and G‑d is among them. Why do you raise yourself up above the congregation of G‑d?” Within every Jew is a G‑dly spark, an actual part of His infinity. Given that, how can one person be placed above another? The G‑dly potential we possess is the fundamental equalizer. Once it is accepted that every Jew possesses such a potential, seemingly, there is no place for a hierarchy. Why then, Korach asks, should Moses serve as an absolute authority and Aaron, as the High Priest?

In resolution, it can be explained that there is a difference between the existence of a potential and its expression. Of course, every Jew possesses a Divine potential, but he also possesses natural drives and tendencies which divert his attention and distract him from focusing on that Divine gift. Yes, we are all innately holy. But we also have other innate, natural drives. The goal of a genuine Jewish leader is to motivate the people to heighten the expression of their inner G‑dliness.

This was the unique role of Moses. Through his inner Divine service, he was able to integrate his Divine potential within all of his human qualities. Thus everyone who interacted with him realized that he was in contact with a holy man.

As a result, that person would seek to express his own Divine potential. The process is two-tiered. On a conscious level, we feel a positive sense of envy when we meet a man who is content and fulfilled, who is not chasing worldly desires and yet, is an accomplished person, one who has achieved his goals and is not wanting. We are willing to accept the guidance and direction such a person offers for we feel that it will enable us to live fuller and more complete lives.

Beyond this, there is an inner spiritual process at work, a motif that operates on a deeper level than conscious thought. Coming into contact with a person who has realized his spiritual potential inspires one to develop his own. Like a burning candle that ignites other combustible material, when the light of one person’s Divine potential shines forth, it will naturally arouse the latent Divinity that exists within others.

This was the nature of Moses’ leadership. Moses had no concept of self-concern. Not only did he not focus on his material desires, he was not concerned even with his own spiritual desires. He centered solely on his people: what was for their benefit and how could they best realize their own inner strengths. Korach argued: “The entire congregation is holy and G‑d is among them.” But precisely for that reason it was necessary for Moses to assume a leadership role that would encourage them to express the G‑dly potential that they possess.

This is not merely a story of the past. The Zohar, the fundamental text of Jewish mysticism, speaks of “the extension of Moses in all generations,” explaining that, at all times, there are Jews who fulfill the function of Moses and inspire their brethren to tap the inner spiritual potential they possess. By developing a connection with such Moseses, we can rise above our individual personalities and empower our innate G‑dly potential to surface.

Looking to the Horizon

Korach’s challenge to Moses’ leadership calls for an understanding of the Jewish concept of authority in general. One of the mitzvos of the Torah is to appoint a king and whenever we recite the Grace After Meals we pray for the restoration of the monarchy and the House of David. Indeed, this will be the function of the Mashiach who will be a teacher, but primarily a king, an absolute ruler.

Among the explanations of this concept is that earthly monarchy stems from — and serves as an analogy to and an extension of — our relationship with the King of kings. The purpose of a Jewish monarchy is to teach the people self-nullification to the king in order to intensify their self-nullification to G‑d. The self-nullification of the people to a mortal king should infuse kabbalas ol, “the acceptance of G‑d’s yoke,” into every dimension of their Divine service, deepening the intensity of their commitment until it affects their very essence.

Ideally, kingship is invited by the king’s subjects, and not imposed upon them. The analogue to this relationship reflects man’s desire and initiative to tie the essence of his being to G‑d in homage to Him.