4. Rising to the Challenge
Let us now take this concept further and explore a major question that is relevant to ourselves as members of the community today – as concerned members, activists, or educators:
How does one inspire the talented pool of Jewish leadership to rise to the challenge represented by the dual nature of the Jewish Leader?
In the first place, with all the ambivalence expressed in the classical Jewish world regarding leadership, power and authority, it should be made clear that there were many encouraging texts that paved the way for the impending leader, independent of the realm in which he or she engaged:
Below are but three well-known sayings from Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers [in Chapters 1-3].
1. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
2. “Yours is not the labour to finish, but nor are you free to desist from it…”
3. “Do not separate yourself from the community…”
Next, can there be a more sublime model of the Jewish leader than the one provided by Moses himself, when he himself describes the kind of leader to succeed him?
Let the Lord
G-d of all flesh
Set a man over the congregation
Who may go out before them
And who may come in before them And who may lead them out And who may bring them in
So that the congregation of the Eternal
Be not as a flock
Which has no shepherd.
Devarim (Numbers) 27:15-17
Jewish Sages ascribe the terminology, “G-d of all flesh”, as Moses’ way of telling the Almighty:
- The dispositions of all men are known to You;
- You know that they are not similar to one another.
The Sages continue the explanation:
Therefore, appoint a leader for them who will bear with each person, according to his or her disposition…
“Who may go out before them”:
This refers to a model that runs counter to the kings of other nations, who sit at home but send their armies to war …
“And who will go out before them”:
This refers to a leader who will be sound in his or her merits.
The essential nature of the leader as described is therefore not the politician, but the teacher.
Says Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, during a forum on Jewish leadership:
“Judaism’s leaders have always been its teachers; we see ourselves as a people always learning, ever open to new insights, new ways of thinking, and deeper modes of relating to G-d and to each other.”
This model of today’s Jewish leader, then, is not bound by political considerations. On the contrary, his or her authority is not imposed; nor are coercion or any political instrument employed.
- A leader's authority derives from his or her personality and depth of learning, selflessness and respect for others.
- The teacher inspires emulation by his or her way of thinking, which does not result in enslavement of the disciple. He or she is a fashioner, an artisan, who takes amorphous matter and shapes it into something beautiful.
- As both sage and interpreter, the leader rises to paramount importance because he or she is regarded as the person who provides for the survival of the People.
This notion is beautifully extended by Rabbi Shavit Artson:
“Educator, rabbi, youth advisor… we are all teachers, leading through the example we set, by our lives as they are lived, rather than by any skill, discipline or force of personality.”
And how is this achieved? Shavit Artson concludes:
“Our legitimacy… requires that we travel on the road we offer to our fellow Jews, not as accomplished examples of perfection, but as flawed seekers of improvement. "
From the three dictums in Pirkei Avot:
- Summarize the essence of the text in your own words, with respect to Jewish leadership.
- To whom or what is an individual or leader responsible?
- is leadership irreplaceable? Is a particular leader irreplaceable?
In the quotation from Moshe Rabbeinu:
- What do we learn about leadership qualities and attitudes?
- What is the connection between this model and the discussion in the previous chapter?
From Rabbi Bradley Sharvit Artson:
- How can teachers fit the model where they "go out before them" and "lead them out" today?
- Do our teachers lead us?
- Do our leaders teach us today?
- If so, how? If not, how could they do so?
Please see Internet References for Leadership