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Leadership Qualities – Keys to Being and Choosing Good Leaders

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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Pinchas (Matot in Israel)
Shabbat Mevarchim Menachem Av
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The Torah portion of Pinchas relates how Moshe asked G-d to appoint a leader for the Jewish people. In Moshe’s words, “Let the L-rd, the G-d of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who will go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the L-rd will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”  G-d then instructed Moshe to appoint Yehoshua as that leader, as it says, “Take for yourself Yehoshua, the son of Nun, a man of spirit, and you shall lay your hand upon him.”[1]
The above verses allude to several qualities necessary to be an effective leader.
When Moshe referred to G-d as “the G-d of spirits of all flesh,” the commentaries say that he referred to G-d in this way to allude to the following important qualities that a Jewish leader should have:
·        Individualized Treatment
According to Rashi, Moshe meant the leader should be able to tolerate each person according to that person’s individual personality (to go according to the spirit of each individual).
·        Root Soul
According to the Ohr HaChaim, Moshe was saying that the leader should have a root soul which will allow him to understand the temperament of all his followers, i.e., he has somewhat of the spirit of all his followers. (Obviously, only G-d knows who has a root soul.)
·        Not Timid
According to the Abrabanel, Moshe was asking G-d, who knows the spirit of every man, to choose a leader who would be firm with the people and not be timid like a lamb.
By asking that the leader “go out in front of them,” Moshe meant that the new leader should lead the people in battle as was customary for Jewish leaders in those days.
In addition, he meant that the leader should care about the community and the community should care about him.[2]
Bring Out and In
Moshe repeats that the leader should lead them out and bring them in. This indicates that the leader should
  • successfully bring them into the land of Israel (Rashi)
  • not only lead them militarily but also in the running of the country after it is conquered and settled (Seforno)
  • appoint other leaders to assist him (Ibn Ezra)
  • continue to protect them from their enemies (Targum Yonatan)
  • teach them Torah and inspire them to study Torah (on their own) in groups.[3]
The rest of this article will discuss the various qualities necessary to be a good Jewish leader.
Heart and Soul
The Peleh Yo’etz writes (entry Memuneh), “A person in a communal position (e.g., president of a community, a board member or an elected official) should pay attention to all of the communal needs and tend to them with his whole heart and soul. He should put aside his own needs and take care of the community. Our sages say that one who is involved in helping the community has the same merit as one who studies Torah.[4] One should be energetic and quick to do this work which is G-d’s work essentially. One should not rest or be silent until taking care of the matter (that is of concern for the community). One should not delay this mitzvah.”
In the Eyes of Man and G-d
“One should always do everything in a righteous manner so that both G-d and man will be pleased. But even if he cannot satisfy (all) the people and there are some empty and crude people who speak out against him, he should not pay attention or be upset as there were people who even spoke out against Moshe… Rather one should do one’s work for the sake of Heaven and whoever wishes to complain can complain.
“One should not say, ‘What do I need this trouble for?’ If everyone were to say this, the community would be like a shepherd without a flock. [The Mishnah, Avot 2:2 says] ‘The reward for communal work is great. They are assisted by the merit of the forefathers, and their righteousness lasts forever.’”
Seek Counsel
“It is best for the communal [lay] leaders not to rely on their own wisdom but to show respect for the elders and [other] officers of the city. They should seek counsel from them on every matter because ‘Salvation comes through much counsel.’”[5]
Don’t Complain
“Any person of sound mind will not get angry at the leaders if they seem not to give him the honor he deserves… One must realize that each person does his best in his situation…
Words of Peace and Love
“Even if one wishes to speak out [about a perceived injustice done by the leadership] and have his opinion heard, he should speak softly, with love and friendship, as one would speak to his friend, in a manner that begins with peace and ends with love. This is the proper way.[6]”
Revolving Leadership Positions
The Pele Yo’etz recommends that people in communal [lay] leadership positions be replaced on an annual basis. This system is beneficial in numerous ways:
·        Since communal leadership involves great effort, one can get worn out quickly. By appointing a new person every year, there will be a renewed energy in that position.
·        Since it is an honor to be a leader, that honor can be shared by many people.
·        Some positions may not involve honor and are, on the contrary, very laborious. This labor, too, should be shared.
·        If a person has a complaint against a leader, he can console himself, knowing that when it will be his turn to lead, he can do it his way. This will minimize public murmurings against the leadership as one will realize that if he complains publicly about others, then when it is his turn, the same will happen to him. (This doesn’t seem to deter modern-day politicians. But that’s another story. A.C.)
Rich and Poor
Another recommendation of the Peleh Yo’etz is that both wealthy people and those of modest means should serve in positions of leadership. The people should be chosen based on their wisdom, not their wealth as money does not turn a boor into a wise man. This system is beneficial in many ways.
Humility – through Torah
The Torah writes[7] regarding a king, “He should not become haughty of heart among his brothers.” This is because arrogance is a trait that G-d considers disgusting for a commoner as well as for a king. If even a king, who has reason to be haughty, must remain humble, how much more so must a regular person be humble.[8] The Ohr HaChaim explains that the recipe to combat haughtiness is studying Torah as the previous verse says that a king must have a Torah scroll which he should read all the time. This concept is expressed in the sixth chapter of Pirkei Avot (Mishnah 1) which says that studying Torah for G-d’s sake will “cloak a person in humility and fear of G-d.”
Uziah – the King who Became a Leper
The importance of a king, and by extension any leader, being humble can be learned from the tragic story of Uziah, King of Judah. Uziah was a very powerful and successful king, as is recorded in the Book of Chronicles II (chapter 26). He fought and conquered the Phillistines and was respected by the Ammonites and Egyptians. He built towers in Jerusalem and in the desert and had much cattle and many fields. He had an army of 307,500 men whom he equipped with all sorts of armor and weapons. However, he became haughty and corrupt. He assumed the title of the High Priest (although he was not a Kohen) and entered the Holy of Holies to offer incense. Although the real High Priest warned him to desist from this path, he refused. The king was immediately struck with leprosy on his forehead. He was removed from the throne and banished from the city since a leper was not allowed to remain in the city, living out the rest of his life near the cemetery outside of Jerusalem. Thus his arrogance brought his reign to come to an abrupt end.
It’s a Service, Not an Honor
The Ran writes[9] that a king (or others in a leadership position) should consider the following which will ensure they remain humble: “One should know that kingship is not an essential part of the king’s character. Rather, it is a position given to him by the people, or by G-d, for the sake of the people, as King Solomon said,[10] “Better a poor and wise child than an old and foolish king who no longer knows to receive admonition…” Therefore, a king should not consider himself to be a ruler over the people but rather their servant who wishes to assist them… G-d alone is called ‘The Honorable King’[11] as essentially He alone is a king. Human kings, however, are servants to their [positions of] honor as they have the honor only for as long as the people wish to give it to them. Should the people wish to remove the honor from him, they can do so… As such, their positions should not lead them to arrogance.”
The above concept is based on a story in the Talmud (Horayot 10a): Rabban Gamliel was once traveling by ship with Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabban Gamliel brought bread along with him whereas Rabbi Yehoshua brought along both bread and flour. The journey took longer than expected and Rabban Gamliel ran out of bread. Rabbi Yehoshuah, of course, shared his flour with Rabban Gamliel. Rabban Gamliel asked Rabbi Yehoshua how he knew that the trip would be extended and that he should take flour along. Rabbi Yehoshua explained that he did so because there is a star (i.e., comet) that comes up every 70 years and confuses the sailors. [As the sailors navigated by looking at the stars, the comet, which is a “moving star,” can cause them to navigate incorrectly and lose their way. And Rabbi Yehoshua had calculated that the comet would be appearing around the time of the trip.] Rabban Gamliel asked, if you’re so wise, why are you traveling? [In other words, couldn’t you use your wisdom to earn money without having to travel overseas for business?] Rabbi Yehosha said, why are you asking about me? There are two scholars in your area, Rabbi Eliezer Chisma and Rabbi Yochanan ben Gudgoda, who are so smart they can calculate how many drops of water there are in the sea. Yet they have no money for bread or clothes.
When Rabban Gamliel returned to the Yeshivah, he sent for them as he wished to appoint them as the heads of the Yeshivah and thus provide them with an income. But they did not come [as they didn’t want to be in a leadership position]. When he sent for them a second time, they came [not wanting to be disrespectful to Rabban Gamliel who was the leader of the Sanhedrin]. He said to them, “Do you think I’m giving you a prince’s position? I’m giving you a position to be a servant to the people.”
Leadership Can Lead to a Shortened or a Lengthened Life
The Talmud (Pesachim 87b) says that being in a leadership position can shorten a person’s life. This is because it can lead to arrogance or to ignoring words of rebuke,[12] and the sins that result from these negative traits can lead to an early demise. The Ketav Sofer writes (on Horayot, ibid) that this teaching only applies to a person who sees himself as being “above” (i.e., “better than”) the people. However, if one remains humble even as a leader, then, on the contrary, one can be blessed with a long life, as the Torah (Deut. 17:20) says (regarding a king), “So that his heart will not be haughty over his brothers… in order that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his sons, among Israel.”
May we be Blessed to Find and Use All of Our Leadership Qualities!
[1] Numbers 27:16-18
[2] Ohr HaChaim
[3] Megaleh Amukot, Ofan 1. See Likutei Sichot vol. 23 pg. 192 and on.
[4] See Rambam, Laws of Tefillah 6:8 “Anyone involved in efforts for the welfare of the community is like one involved in Torah study.” The Tur (O.C. Siman 93) quotes this concept from the Jerusalem Talmud (Brachot 5:1).
[5] Mishlei 11:14 and 24:6
[6] Peleh Yo’etz, ibid
[7] Deut. 17:20
[8] Ramban on the verse
[9] Derashot HaRan, Derush 11
[10] Kohelet 4:13
[11] Tehillim 24:7-8
[12] Rashi and Ben Yehoyada
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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