You may have picked up from previous Shabbat Shalom Messages that I stream a lot of movies and television shows. It’s one of the few things that helps me decompress and focus on things other than the chaos of day-to-day life. This weekend I found myself re-watching the “newish” Star Trek movie, in which Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise must save the universe from alien powers. However, for me, the dynamic between Captain Kirk and his first officer, Mr. Spock was more interesting than the plot.

The two officers are frequently on each other’s nerves. Kirk’s recklessness causes friction with Spock, who’s unwavering in his commitment to the rules. Similarly, Spock’s rigidity offends Kirk’s impetuousness. However, each is tasked with saving the other (as well as their crewmates) in the face of adversity. When the odds seem too great to overcome, both Kirk and Spock show their superior leadership abilities. We can see similar leadership from Moses in this week’s Torah portion.

In this portion, there is a slew of happenings, including:

  • Pinchas killing Zimri and Cozbi for having sex in the Mishkan
  • The lifting of the plague that inflicted the Israelites
  • The second census being carried out
  • Moses receiving directions on dividing Israel amongst the tribes
  • The daughters of Zelophehad claiming their inheritance

The portion also features a pivotal moment in the story of Moses: he learns that he won’t be leading the people into Israel and Joshua is appointed as the leader of the Israelites. In a scene reminiscent of a sad movie ending when the main character knows their end is upon them, God shows Moses the Land of Israel and told him that he wouldn’t be allowed to bring the Jewish people into the Land. Moses immediately said: “May … God … appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them … and let the assembly … not be like sheep that have no shepherd.”  (Numbers 27:16-17)

When Moses was told by God that he wouldn’t be able to lead the Jewish people into the land of Israel, his knee-jerk response was not focused on his own fate, but rather to make sure that the Israelites would still have someone who would continue to lead them in his absence. This is why Moses was one of the greatest leaders ever.

The definition of true leadership is the ability, when the going gets tough, to focus on other people’s needs instead of your own. Being a leader is not about the recognition or accolades you might receive. Rather, it’s the constant focus on your follower’s needs. Consequently, if you’re no longer able to lead them, you will automatically hold their fears and concerns as your primary focus.

It’s unfortunately all too common for former leaders to stop caring about the communities they’ve left. For me, true leadership is apparent in former leaders who continue to champion the causes and values of those who believed in them, even after leaving their leadership positions.

The powerful message Moses taught us all is to fight the urge to initially take a demotion or firing personally. There will certainly be time to think about the impact of how this decision affects you. But right now your concern must be about those who trusted you.

Make no mistake; it certainly takes a lot of class to have your focus be on others when your ego, self-esteem, and your self-worth are seemingly all on the line. But it’s precisely this knee-jerk response that separates a good leader from a great one.