How effective can a leader be when his followers are afraid to come near him? Can such a leader truly understand the needs of his people? Moshe Rabbeinu , having spoken face to face with G-d, knew that his effectiveness was dependent on his accessibility to the people, and his ability to relate to them. "The people come to me to seek G-d; whenever they have a problem, they come to me" (18:15-16).
However, Moshe spoke these words before the events at Sinai, before meeting G-d face to face. During his days on Sinai, Moshe experienced a glimpse of the Divine, a glimpse that no other human being had or will ever achieve. Moshe after Sinai was a changed individual. How could he not be after spending forty days in intimate contact with G-d? The Jewish people were afraid to approach their holy leader. No longer would "the people stand around Moshe from the morning to evening" (18:13). Moshe's effectiveness as a leader was in jeopardy.
This week's parsha opens with the phrase "Moshe assembled the entire Israelite community", a phrase found nowhere else in the Chumash . Moshe, realizing that he must re-establish his relationship with the Jewish people, gathered "the entire Israelite community" and said to them: True, I had a spiritual rendezvous with G-d and it made an indelible impact on me, but I am still the same approachable Moshe. I will not forsake my people to learn and meditate in an ivory tower. Your concerns will still be my concerns. "I will carry you in the bosom as the nurse carries an infant" ( Bamidbar 11:12).
Yet while Moshe made every attempt to live amongst, and thereby understand, his people, his direct, unique encounter with the Divine ensured that Moshe was the embodiment of uncompromising truth. And as we know, the truth sometimes hurts, and is something that people often have no interest in hearing. While Moshe did not see himself as being above the people, the response of the Jewish nation to the challenges of the day was often wanting. There were bound to be moments of friction between the devoted leader and his people.
It is Aharon whom we tend to remember as being much closer to B'nai Yisrael . He was the Ohev Shalom V'Rodef Shalom , the lover and seeker of peace who was willing to compromise in order to placate the people: look no further than his role in the episode of the golden calf. It is thus not surprising that the outpouring of the nation's grief was greater at his death than at the death of Moshe.
The challenge of effective leadership is to find the right mix of Aharon and Moshe; of uncompromising truth on the one hand, and the constant seeking of peace on the other. This is no easy task. Different historical circumstances call for variations in the mix. Sometimes it is the role of Moshe which must be in the forefront, while at other times compromise, even though truth is pushed aside, must reign supreme. It appears to this writer that our generation must put its emphasis on "assembling the entire Israelite community". Our fragmented people need leaders whose concern goes beyond their own constituency, concerned even for those who are not part of our community; even for those who have sinned; and even if it means compromising on the truth.
"And Moshe gathered the entire Israelite people" is followed by the laws of the mishkan . The mishkan represents the striving towards G-d whose "signature is truth." Yet the mishkan was built in the aftermath of the golden calf. It is precisely when we sin, when we disregard the truth, that G-d grants us an opportunity to re-establish our connection to Him. Let us all strive to do so in a manner that will bring internal peace to the Jewish people.