6. Paradigms of the Effective Jewish Leader
Rabbis and Jewish writers over the generations have invested tremendous energy in describing those characteristics or paradigms that define the effective Jewish leader, and in enumerating those qualities that were considered culturally normative and fitting. For example, the Rabbis were fond of quoting the following Midrash that demonstrates clearly where their sentiments lay:
It is said that G-d told King David: ‘I value more one day that you are engaged in studying Torah, than the thousands of sacrifices that your son Solomon will offer on the [Temple] altar.’
Perhaps the perfect paradigm of the Jewish leader is to be found in Yitro's [Jethro's] advice to his son-in-law, Moses, about what type of men should be chosen to assist him in judging the People. He urges him to find:
… able men who fear G-d, men of truth, hating unjust gain…
This represents a clear imperative to select judges who realise they are not all powerful and people known for their honesty; it is also an condemnation of corruption.
But are these the only important qualities of the Jewish leader?
Professor Alvin Schiff, reviewing leadership characteristics in Jewish sources, has listed no less than 50 characteristics and skills attributed to the ideal Jewish leader. He quotes, among others, the great halachist Rabbi Joseph Karo www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=188&letter=C, who claims that Jewish leaders must be strong and rich:
“strong” – able to subdue passions;
“rich” – happy with their lot, reflecting the well-known dictum from Pirkei Avot.
While Schiff concedes that human frailty is natural, he nonetheless concludes that the ultimate goal to be gleaned from all these sources is 'imitatio dei' – the imitation of G-d’s qualities.
Naturally, everyone has his or her own favorite leader. Perhaps reflecting Sol Roth’s focus on cultural power, Schiff cites Judaism's founding father Abraham as the prototype of the Jewish leader. While he defines the dichotomy of leadership between the political and spiritual in a slightly different manner, the essence is similar: In Abraham, Schiff finds both the qualities of Prophet (political leadership - concern for society and community) and priest (spiritual leadership).
Abraham is described as a man of unusual vision and rare personal conviction, who wages a strenuous battle for the goals in which he believes.
His concern for others is reflected in: his kindness and generosity; his educational approach (accepting others as they are) and foresight; his abilities as a community legislator; and his far-reaching actions, both on behalf of his own people and others.
Abraham cries out for mercy on behalf of the wicked people of Sodom,
Should the righteous suffer for the sins of the wicked?
This appeal led Prof. Reuven Kimelman to declare that the outcome of Abraham’s confrontation with G-d was a confirmation of the Prophetic ideal – terms echoed in the call of Isaiah:
… seekers of G-d and pursuers of justice
In Kimelman's estimation, Abraham met this standard, for how could a just G-d endow a people with greatness, without first testing its commitment to justice? Kimelman goes on to conclude that the enduring lesson for the Jewish leader is that:
… the growth of power must be laced with the bonds of justice.