“Moses became distressed and said to the Lord, ‘Do not accept their offerings. No donkey of any one of them did I take, nor did I harm any one of them’”
Numbers 16:15

The great leader Moses is faced with rebellion. It is clear that he is disturbed, but why does he find it important to emphasise that he took “no donkey”? It seems he was not the only leader who makes this claim.

In the haftarah this week we read of Samuel, who also faces a crisis within the people. Embittered by their demand to be led by a king, he declares: “Whose ox did I take, and whose donkey did I ride on?” (Samuel-1:12:3). Is it possible that both Moses and the prophet Samuel were accused of stealing or misusing public funds?

According to Rav Moti Elon, the contemporary Israeli teacher, Korach and his men may not have wanted to replace Moses or Aaron. They would be happy for Moses and Aaron to continue in their offices as leader and high priest, but only if the two brothers were indebted and beholden to them.

Korach and his followers sought influence and sway over how things were to be done. It was the same with Samuel, who faced a nation wishing to appoint a king. Not a king to serve, but rather one that would ultimately serve the various parties and their interests.

With their comments, Moses and Samuel make the point that Jewish leadership, bearing the word of God, must be independent of outside influence. It cannot, and must not, be subjective in any way or form. The leader must represent this at all times – indeed, we are a fortunate nation to have had such giants of spirit among us. Modern-day politicians would do well to bear this lesson in mind.

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