While it is undoubtedly true that people get the leaders they deserve it is also true that great leaders are often, though not always, able to inspire people towards more noble goals. In essence the relationship between leaders and the people is circular, explaining why so many organizations excel year after year whereas many others flounder year after year.
Parshat Pinchas presents us with at least three models of leadership. Zimri ben Salu the head of the tribe of Shimeon is unfortunately and tragically representative of too many “leaders”. Not realizing or worse yet ignoring the fact that leadership must mean being held to a higher moral standard, zimri not only had an affair but felt so empowered that he could do so publicly. Like many a leader he felt above the law. It was specifically his role as a leader, demonstrating to all his inability to control his desires, that aroused the anger of G-d.
“Israel became involved with Baal Peor and G-d displayed anger ( Vayichar af Hashem ) against Israel" (25:3). The Malbim (19th century, Rumania ) explains that the Hebrew language has two words for anger, af and cheimah. Af refers to external anger such as that of a parent to a child where the outward anger is (or should be) just a façade masking the deep love towards the child which remains within. Cheimah however, refers to internal, burning anger which sometimes accompanies af and sometimes is buried and boiling inside hidden by a façade of outward kindness.
When the Jewish people began sinning with the daughters of Midian and the idolatry of ba'al peor, “ vayichar af Hashem ” – G-d was angry, but it was an external anger. Moshe asked the judges of Israel to “kill your constituents who were involved with ba'al Peor” (25:5), the sinners but not the innocent bystanders. However when a tribal leader acted no better than the masses, G-d's full anger was aroused and a plague ensued – one that could have wiped out all the Jewish people, even those who were far removed from sin. Such is the nature of deep anger. It was Pinchas's audacious act of killing such a "leader" that “turned My anger ( cheimah ) from them so that I did not destroy them” (25:11).
Zimri's action led to a different model of leadership, that of the righteous zealot doing whatever was necessary to avenge the honour of G-d, even at the expense of man. The harsh action of Pinchas – carrying out a death penalty without any of the mandated procedures of Jewish law being applied, was something that was a one time event and one that may not be a model for us. In fact the Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 9:7) claims it was only G-d's intervention and blessing of Pinchas that prevented the Sages from excommunicating him. Nonetheless it is quite fitting that middah kneged middah, measure for measure, zimri who so callously ignored Jewish law and values was punished with an act far outside the normal parameters of Jewish law and values.
The ideal model of leadership can be seen in the transfer of leadership from Moshe to Joshua, detailed so beautifully soon after the events of ba'al peor. “Moshe spoke to G-d saying: Let G-d of all living souls appoint one over the community. Let him come and go before them and let him bring them forth and lead them. Let G-d's community not be like sheep that have no shepherd” (27:15-16).
Moshe despite knowing he would die soon after transferring power had as his greatest concern the future welfare of the Jewish people, all of the Jewish people. Just as a sheppard counts each and every sheep a leader must be the leader of each and every Jew, not just those who share his views. Rashi commenting on the strange appellation used here in reference to G-d, Elohei harochot – G-d of all living souls (in the plural) comments that Moshe said “master of the universe it is known before you the thoughts of each one, and they are dissimilar from one another; appoint for them a leader who will endure each and every one according to his/her views”. We do not have to accept all views but we do have to accept all people. Such advice, from the greatest leader of all time, is something we should all take to heart. Shabbat Shalom!