“And the people became complainers of evil in the ears of the Lord” Numbers 11:1
V Once again we find the people complaining about the hardships of their journey from Egypt towards the Promised Land. In this week’s parashah, the complaints are ostensibly about the bland regularity of the manna. The people demanded meat instead.
But can this really be the problem? Were the people so petty, so immature, as to launch a minor rebellion over the lack of gastronomic variety in their diet? After all, the manna was the miraculous bread provided by God.
Rabbi Matis Weinberg points out that people were actually complaining about Moses’s leadership. The Talmud teaches that the manna was given because of the merit of Moses and was therefore a useful proxy for him and his leadership. A rejection of the manna was in reality a rejection of Moses and his management style and God appears to agree that the people may have a point.
Indeed, shortly after this complaint, Moses is instructed to gather the seventy elders at the Tent of Meeting, where God will inspire them with the divine spirit. God seems to be responding to the people’s complaint by giving Moses’s management team more power and independence.
Although the people angered God by the ungrateful and aggressive manner of their complaint, they instinctively understood that a highly centralised form of personal leadership would be ineffective as they encountered new challenges when entering the Promised Land.
As Ronald Heifetz, founder of Harvard University’s Centre for Public Leadership, states, the most effective leadership in times of crisis is adaptive leadership. This style is flexible enough to listen to, and learn from, a range of opinions rather than relying on the limited vision of one person, even if they are as great as Moses himself.