Elan Javanfard, L.M.F.T.
Parshat Pinchas sheds light on the fascinating process by which Moshe sought a successor to lead Bnei Yisrael into Aretz Yisrael. In this search, we can discern the psychological underpinnings of the leadership qualities Moshe sought in his potential successor. By examining these qualities, we can glean profound insights into the nature of effective leadership, teach aspiring leaders, and nurture leadership in others.
The Passuk says, “Choose a person over the congregation who will go out before them and come in before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (Num. 27:16). This highlights three basic leadership lessons, summarized; the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. A real leader is actually the greatest steward without a personal agenda at hand, but instead there solely for the needs of the people being lead.
- A leader who respects diversity of thought through empathy
Rashi explains, “Appoint over them a leader who will bear with each person according to their individual character.” Moshe understood the importance of functional validation, understanding where someone’s thoughts come from.
He sought someone who could genuinely understand and connect with the people they would lead. An empathetic leader is attuned to the needs and concerns of others, showing compassion and actively seeking to alleviate suffering. By cultivating empathy and compassion within ourselves and teaching the importance of kindness and understanding, we can foster leaders who prioritize the well-being and dignity of those they serve.
- A leader who is humble and selfless in character
Moshe knew one of the crucial leadership qualities was humility. A humble leader recognizes their limitations, values the contributions of others, and prioritizes the greater good over personal ambition. Iggeret HaRamban, a beautifully written guidance letter from the Ramban to his son, emphasizes humility as daily cornerstones to all other qualities. True leadership stems from a selfless commitment to serving the needs of others, fostering a sense of unity and cohesion. Cultivating humility within ourselves and guiding others toward humility can be a cornerstone of effective leadership.
- A leader with discernment and courageous timing
Since a leader must lead from the front, they must not be so far out in front that when they turn around, they find that no one is following. Pace is of the essence. Rabbeinu Bahya on his commentary on Bamidbar discusses how Moshe sought to impart leadership qualities for what the nation would need, not solely what they currently needed. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks shares that a leader with courageous timing inspires confidence in others and is willing to take calculated risks for the betterment of the community. By using diversity of perspective and humility, a leader will be able to gather all suggestions and discern between what is wanted and what is truly needed.
Simon Sinek, author of “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” said, "Leadership is not about being in charge. It is about taking care of those in your charge." Parshat Pinchas teaches us that leadership qualities extend beyond external attributes and skills. Moshe's search for a successor highlights the psychological aspects of leadership, emphasizing diversity of thought, humility, and discernment. By embodying these qualities and nurturing them in others, we can strive to become effective leaders who inspire and uplift those around us. May the lessons from Parshat Pinchas guide us in our personal quests for leadership and in raising a generation of compassionate, wise, and devoted leaders who will continue to shape a better world.
Elan Javanfard, M.A., L.M.F.T. is a Consulting Psychotherapist focused on behavioral health redesign, a Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University, & a lecturer related to Mindfulness, Evidence Based Practices, and Suicide Prevention. Elan is the author of Psycho-Spiritual Insights: Exploring Parasha & Psychology, weekly blog. He lives in Los Angeles Pico Robertson community with his wife and two children and can be reached at Elan.Javanfard@gmail.com.