If one were to think about Moshe Rabbeinu’s most outstanding qualities, we would probably mention humility, courage, and even his teaching skills. Yet, when dictating the conditions of his successor, none of these qualities make Moshe’s list. When he asks Hashem, he simply states: “[Someone] who will go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep who have to them no shepherd” (27:17). What about their character? Why does he only insist on the ‘functional’ components of leadership?
If we look closely, in fact, we do find a critical nuance in Moshe request. In presenting a poetic analogy of the people as sheep and their leader as a shepherd, Moshe adds two (in hebrew- one) unnecessary words: “to them”. Why did he not simply say “who have no shepherd”? What meaning would have been lost? This, according to the Chasam Sofer, is wherein-lies the character ethic, one of humility, like Moshe himself. Some shepherds, while they do tend to their sheep, do so for their own benefit (See Rashi on Bereishit 37:12, in reference to the brothers before they sold Yosef). A true leader, one whose concern is truly his constituents, leads for their sake, not his own. He is “to them” a shepherd. As we know from the Midrash that told of Moshe’s care for one lost sheep -which prompted Hashem’s revelation at the burning bush- Moshe’s concern was not simply for the sheep business, but for the sheep themselves.
In our busy lives of activity after activity, we get wrapped up thinking that the best person for any given job needs to have abilities; tangible and visible skills to finish the task. When that task involves people, however, as it often does, we cannot ignore the need for the character ethic. The person’s traits will be the ultimate test of their success. While the Jewish people certainly needed someone who could bring them into the land, or usher them properly into war, what they needed most was a shepherd. Not a shepherd working for a bonus or vying for ‘shepherd of the month’, but instead, one who truly cared about the sheep.