Parshas Shlach
Numbers 13:1 -15:41

Challenging Leadership ©

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Mr. James W. Belk, may he rest in peace.

"And sent out each of you by Moshe, from Bamidbar Paron by Hashem's Word. All of you were men of [exceptional] distinction as heads of B'nei Yisroel." Numbers 13:3

These were twelve men personally selected by Moshe. Men who Moshe had confidence in. Men who Moshe knew to be wise, moral, Torah observant and honest. Moshe selected men of the finest character from among all Yisroel. These were highly respected men of exceptional distinction. Yet ten of these men brought back an evil report to Kal Yisroel which resulted in rebellion against Hashem, other sins, death and a prolonged stay in the BaMidbar. The results of their message were devastating to G-d's people.

In preparing to discuss this subject I began reviewing men that I know, desiring to share a story about their behavior. After much contemplation it was difficult to list even a few men. This examination caused me to realize how rare highly respected men of exceptional distinction are. My thoughts centered around a discussion in Parshas Shemini {Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47} entitled: "Self Examination: Grading Our Level of Holiness" There we discussed "that our sages determined that there are three methods to evaluate an individual's character...." We stated:

"Our sages identify the three areas of character evaluation as:

Bekoso: Observe one's drinking habits. Excessive drinking results in loose language and displays a lack of self restraint. One who controls his liquor is in control of himself / herself!

Bekiso: Observe one's business habits. Our sages teach that a person's way of conducting business is revealing of one's attitude toward his fellow man. By observing if one acts righteously... honestly... fairly towards his fellow man or by observing if one seeks to shortchange his fellow man we can measure his relationship to his fellow man!

Beka'aso: Observe one's temper. Anyone who loses his temper in a fit of rage, who throws things, tears clothing or damages things is considered like an idol worshipper by our sages. If he allows his / her evil inclination to dominate to that extent, then that one is capable of idol worship, G-d forbid."

Only one of the men considered appeared to have a serious drinking problem yet many of them did exhibit serious problems with self control. When considering their known business practices many were not consistent in acting righteously, honestly or fairly towards their fellow man. Finally, some of these men did experience from time to time fits of rage where they would throw things, tear clothing or damage things.

After considering dozens of men, several stood out in my mind as men who were possibly of exceptional distinction. Yet none of them are well known or are highly respected among Kal Yisroel. Two are Jewish leaders. One is a common man, a shlepper, who worked hard all his life. His name is Rafael, may he rest in peace.

The Story of Ol' Rafael
Rafael's family descended from Germany before W.W.II. He served as an American solider in W.W.II. He was decorated for his bravery. He contacted malaria and nearly died. In his twenties he was a drinker. He overcame this problem exhibiting great self control throughout the last forty years of his life. In forty plus years of close contact I did not observe anger, loshon hora or unfaithfulness to Hashem. Rafael was honest in business. He was not perfect but he lived a righteous life!

Rafael did not attend a Jewish day school or a Yeshiva, yet he studied often. Even with all his learning efforts he was far from being a Torah scholar. Yet that did not stop his great chesed or great rachmonis to the indigent, the sick and the elderly.

He had little to leave for his children even though he worked very hard all his life. He owned a small two bedroom house, one car, one suit, one jacket and several pairs of slacks. Yet he was one of the happiest men I have had the honor of knowing. Rafael exhibited the quality of the twelve men that Moshe chose to spy out the land of promise. The two Jewish leaders that I did not discuss exhibited the Torah knowledge and leadership qualities of the men Moshe chose.

It is devastating when highly respected men of exceptional distinction fail G-d and us the Jewish people. Feelings of betrayal are overwhelming. Depression is beyond explanation. If we are capable, dealing with our psychological disappointment, embarrassment and pain may feel like a living death! It is NOT difficult to understand why Kal Yisroel failed in this situation, given our human weakness and dependence on leadership. Yet even in these depressing but most crucial times one is able to connect with G-d and to connect with the Truth of Torah. One does NOT have to follow the poor example of leadership or fail because leadership is mistaken or lies!! As a result many in Yisroel were punished for their failure. Many died and many did not enter the land of promise.

Kal Yisroel was bound by a serious conflict of leadership. Ten great leaders spoke evil. Their reports were evil! Only the reports of Yehoshua and Caleiv were good reports. Can you imagine the conflict resulting from these twelve reports? What would you do if you were in such a conflict?

Chassidim, we are in this type of conflict today! Many do not realize it! Our conflict is a conflict of quality leadership! We need Torah observant leaders who are impeccable in righteousness, honesty and self control. Much of our leadership fails the three simple tests that our sages established as guidelines. So our crisis is in agreeing, our crisis is in knowing and acknowledging in unison highly respected observant Jewish men of exceptional distinction. Our crisis is a crisis of quality material, G-d forbid! Our crisis is dispersion. We are scattered throughout the world. We have pockets of respected men who may be of exceptional distinction in their community. What we do not have is many men who are known throughout the world by all Jewish communities as highly respected men of exceptional distinction.

Moshe selected twelve from among many highly respected men of exceptional distinction. Times have changed! Leadership has changed! Moshe was a central figure that all Yisroel knew, that all leadership knew. Moshe was a man appointed by G-d! In the Jewish community we have no central figure like Moshe in our world today. We have no one to hold leadership accountable for their actions. Our leadership is frequently unaccountable! Our crisis is a crisis of leadership!

Holy reader, this brings us back to the theme question, "What would you do if you were in such a conflict?" In other words, we are in a similar conflict. What are we going to do? Dear reader, both then and now we MUST decide what leadership we are going to follow! We MUST decide which among our many fragmented Torah opinions is correct. We must decide what the proper action is for today, tomorrow and the future, just like Kal Yisroel had to decide thousands of years ago. ....And if we make a mistake ....and if we follow the leadership giving the mistaken opinions, the lies, then we will die in the wilderness as our forefathers did, G-d help us!!

Holy reader, this is why it is good to question the opinions of our leadership! This is why it is absolutely necessary to compare what our leaders say and do with what the Torah says our leaders should say and do. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past! That is why the Torah records this event in detail! It is for our benefit!

Dear readers, it is our responsibility to do what our forefathers did not do. It is our responsibility to challenge our leadership when it is clear they are veering off the Torah's course! It is our responsibility to speak up!! It is our responsibility to disagree! It is our responsibility to choose! Had we done this thousands of years ago we would have entered the land of Canaan and NOT died in the wilderness!

It is hypocritical for leadership to disagree with being challenged when the Torah clearly records that only two great leaders from among twelve spoke truth, when it is obvious had Yisroel followed the opinions of Yehoshua and Caleiv they would NOT have sinned! The Torah is emphatic on this point! Most of Yisroel listened to and decided to follow the opinions of the majority. The majority lead Yisroel astray! Had Kal Yisroel compared what the leadership was saying with what Hashem said, they would not have strayed! They would have discounted what the majority was saying because it was out of alignment with what Hashem had promised!

Good Shabbos!

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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