In this week’s parasha, Beha’alotcha, we learn some interesting lessons about leadership.
Some men who had become contaminated by taking care of a dead body and were therefore ritually impure were unable to fulfill the mitzvah of keeping Pesach. They ask Moses why they should be diminished in this way. Moses does not know the law on this point, inquires of God, and learns these men are to be given a second chance to give the Pesach offering.
We also learn about the Cloud of Glory that accompanied the Mishkan (Tabernacle). When the Cloud rested on the Mishkan the people rested, and when the Cloud rose from the Mishkan the people journeyed. Thus, the Cloud was a sign of God’s love and protection for the Israelites, and a means of leading the people through the Wilderness.
The Ark would also lead the people and protect them. As we no chant when the Ark is opened to remove the Torah: “When the Ark would journey, Moses would say, ‘Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered, and those who hate You flee from before You.’”
God instructs Moses to select 70 elders to help him lead the nation, by judging cases between the people.
The men of the tribe of Levi between the ages of 25 and 50 are dedicated to the service of the Mishkan, in a purification ceremony which includes Moses and Aaron lifting each of the 22,000 Levite men and waiving them in front of the Children of Israel.
On God’s instructions, Moses fixes the order of march for the journey through the desert. In the lead is the tribe of Judah, under the command of Nachshon ben Aminidav, who showed his faith in God by being the first to enter the sea when the Egyptians pursued the Children of Israel and thus led the people to safety. The other tribes followed in a certain order. Last was the tribe of Dan.
Rabbi Avital Hochstein explains the importance of Dan’s position at the end of the march. Using Talmudic sources, Rabbi Hochstein explains that Dan was in a position to do much good. The tribe performed the mitzvah of collecting and returning lost items that fell by the way during the long hike of a million people.
The tribe also collected people who fell behind because they had difficulty walking due to age or infirmity. In this way, the tribe was responsible for diversity among the Israelites, as those who were different remained part of the group.
Finally, Dan provided the “rear guard” to protect the Israelites from those who might attack from behind. This was important, as the Amalekites had attacked the weak and helpless in the rear. (Deuteronomy 25:18)
So we see the sign of leadership is helping people. God provided many signs of leadership: the Clouds over the Tabernacle and the Ark as physical signs of Divine leadership, to remind the people they had God’s protection and give them hope; the mitzvah that those who took leadership in burying the dead had a second chance to observe Passover; 70 leaders to help settle disputes between people; the Tribe of Levi to carry and assemble the Mishkan; the tribe of Dan to look after those people and possessions who might get left along the way.
When you are looking for leadership, find those who help others.