Leaders: A Jewish Definition

by | Jun 10, 2011 | 0 comments

A Jewish leader is the man or woman that has demonstrated that he can take the heat, even a beating, on behalf of the Jewish people.

My son Yosef Moshe is named after Reb Yosef Moshe Haber who was referred to as the Parnes of Kalish.

He was trusted by his community with most of the finances. When the Nazis took over the town he was arrested and pressured to reveal confidential information. He refused and was tortured. He died with his hands nailed to the table for not producing confidential information.

Moshe Rabeinu couldn’t handle the load – he needed assistance.

G-d told him that he no longer had to carry the burden of the Jewish people alone. He was told to choose seventy elders from amongst the millions of Jews.

“How am I supposed to know who to choose?” asked Moshe, “How can I know who is fit to be a leader and who isn’t?”

G-d responded that the choice had already been made. The evil Egyptians had already chosen the leaders of the Jewish people. They chose certain Jews as slave drivers, kapos, over the Jewish slaves. They were chosen to be the tyrants that made sure that the Jews produced their quota. If the elders did not beat the slaves, the Egyptians beat the elders.

These seemingly simple people responded with greatness. Rather than whip the Jewish slaves to produce, they took the beating.

G-d said to Moshe, “the elders who were willing to take a beating for their fellow Jews are the leaders of the people. Today they too will enjoy the prophecy of G-d.” (Medrash Rabba 15;16)

Here we find a fascinating new benchmark for leadership of the Jewish community. The leader is not the man or woman that is politically savvy; not necessarily the graduate of Harvard school of management; nor even from Brisk, Ponevez or the Yeshiva University Kollel program. A Jewish leader is the man or woman that has demonstrated that he can take the heat, even the beating, on behalf of the Jewish people.

It is actually quite amazing. Moshe needed experts not heroes like Rebbe Akiva, the Maharm M’Rotenberg or Yosef Moshe Haber!

Apparently even to decide questions of Jewish law – you don’t only need a good head – you need a good heart too.

A leader must be the nerve ending of his or her people. He must feel their pain and feel their joy. It is only in this context that one can be a decisor for the people. One can’t really lead the people by email or by telephone – it’s easy enough to transfer data – but it’s very difficult to feel the pain.

Moshe Rabeinu himself had to pass this very same test. It was not until he stuck his neck out for a Jewish slave and went from prince to fugitive that he became the “Prophet of G-d.” It was not his wisdom, his scholarship, or his oratory that made him the leader of his people. It was his humility, his dedication and his willingness to take a beating that brought him to the top job. It was his love of Israel that brought him to the mountain of Hashem.

As Jews, certainly as leaders, we are obligated to resist the temptation of insulation. Because of modern media we are all bombarded with news, pictures and cries for help that are difficult to see and listen to.

Klal Yisroel needs our prayers, our shoulders and our hearts. If we share the pain, we will share the insight of leadership, the Shechina, and ultimately the Geula.

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has been a leading force in Jewish community and Jewish education for over forty years. He lived and taught in the United States, Australia and in Israel. He is presently the Rav of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun, a vibrant community in the center of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel, and serves as the Rabbinic guide to many of its wonderful organisations.


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