Outstanding leaders inspire and infuse, with a sense of purpose, even those people who do not have daily contact with them. Their personalities are so strong, their messages so compelling, and their reputations so inviting that their influence expands to a very wide orbit indeed. Think of 1939 when Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty again. When Germany attacked Poland, Prime Minister Chamberlain invited Churchill to join the cabinet and assume the position he had held at the beginning of World War I.
Churchill wrote in his book The Gathering Storm, “Nothing had been said about when I should formally receive my office. But the opening hours may be vital with navies. I therefore sent word to the Admiralty that I would take charge forthwith and arrive at 6 o’clock. On this the Board were kind enough to signal the Fleet, ‘Winston is back.’ So it was that I came again to the room I had quitted in pain and sorrow almost exactly a quarter of a century before.” (p.365). This message was greeted with excitement all through the ranks. Even those sailors who had never met Churchill were energized with his return.
On a more prosaic level I remember visiting a private school in New York City for a meeting with the headmaster. While I was impressed with many of the things I saw that day, what struck me most was how every employee in the building was animated with a sense of mission. Needless to say, the teachers felt they were partners in one of life’s most noble enterprises – the education of the next generation of leaders. But what was truly fascinating was how the non-teachers on the staff, from the cleaning crew to the security officers, all viewed themselves as part of the educational enterprise. They loved their headmaster and totally bought into his vision. I spoke with the security officer who greeted me at the door. He explained to me that his job was to enable the teachers to teach and the students to learn by providing a safe environment. I realized that he viewed himself on some level as an educator. And if being an educator means facilitating education, then he surely was one.
The impact a strong leader can make on his broader environment can be seen in this week’s parsha. Within Moshe’s mandate to the spies were his instructions as to what they should look for. The Torah relates (13:20) that one of the things Moshe wanted confirmed was whether the land contained trees. Rashi explains that Moshe was asking them to ascertain whether there was a great and upstanding person whose merit would offer protection to the land’s inhabitants.
Rav Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, in his anthology Iturei Torah, quotes an interesting insight in the name of Rav S. Mordechowitz. If Moshe wanted to know whether there was a great person, why did he tell the spies to check the trees which represent the markets and public places? The best place to search for such a person would be in the equivalent of our shuls and Batei Midrashim. After all, it is in those places that such great people would most likely be found. Rav Mordechowitz suggests that Moshe was not instructing the spies to see if there were any great men in the “fields” i.e., the public places. Rather, he was instructing them to see if there was any trace of such great men in the public places. If a truly great man existed, his influence would be noticeable by how regular people acted during their daily routines in the public sphere. If no such influence could be detected, then Moshe could safely assume that there were no great people whose merit would prevent the conquest.