In many ways the speech has one theme – leadership. Moses the leader speaks about leadership. He explains that neither he nor any other leader could carry the whole burden alone. The only way was and is to have a team. But not everyone has the capacity for leadership.
Three things above all are needed in order to be a leader, to be wise, understanding and well known (many translations render the third qualification “full of knowledge”, but “well known” is better).
The job specification is given in Deut. 1:13. Two verses later we discover that Moses looked for but failed to find men with all three qualifications. This is why he reports that he found “wise men, well known”. Nothing is said about men of understanding.
What is the difference between wisdom and understanding? The Zohar says, “A student who suggests new ideas to his master is a man of wisdom; a man of understanding knows both his own view and that of others” (Exod. 201a).
To be wise is no picnic; you have to have a questing, creative mind and be possessed of ideas for changed situations. To be understanding you have to know not just ideas but people. The leader who lacks the instinct to know his people will always be deficient as a leader.
No wonder that Moses found it so hard to fill the leadership positions with men who had all the desired qualifications and had to settle for something less.