THE RIGHT STUFF
Rabbi David Walk
The book of Numbers has two major themes, and they both are prominent in this week's Torah reading. They are numbers (Duh!), and leadership. As for the numbers we have a repeat of the census in our parsha, and we have the number intensive list of sacrifices brought on an annual basis in the
Two week's ago, in parshat Chukat, we encountered two aspects of leadership. The first was in the song chanted by the Jews in thanksgiving to God for the miraculous well of the desert. The Jewish leadership was referred to as nedivei ha'am or the generous of the nation. Great leadership requires a giving spirit. If one goes looking for positions based upon what that individual can get out of it, please, don't go into leadership. The correct question is, 'What can I contribute?' not, 'What's in it for me?' The second aspect was found in the lyrics of another song. It begins, 'Thus proclaimed the rulers.' The Hebrew word that I translated as rulers is moshlim, and presents us with a pun. This word can also mean a presenter of parables or teller of tales. This informs us that a great Jewish leader must have the sensibilities of a poet or least the soul of a spinner of yarns. Strict literalists need not apply; the prosaic amongst us can become lawyers.
Okay, now comes the cool part. In the Torah reading of Chukat two great Jewish leaders die. First, there is Miriam, and then Aharon passes on. I think that the first term, nadiv or generous of spirit, refers to Miriam, who gave freely of herself for others, most famously when Moshe was a baby floating down the
This week's Torah reading continues this theme of leadership. However, before I move on to that, I want to mention that I've just been reading two different sources on leadership. The first was very short and secular and I saw it in the August 2011 edition of Psychology Today. It was a review of a new book about leadership. The premise is that to be a great leader it helps to be at least a little crazy. It catalogues the psychological conditions of many of history's outstanding leaders. It confirms something I've always believed, that to go into Jewish leadership you must be crazy, or, at the very least, it helps.
The second source is an entire book on the Jewish angle of this phenomenon by Dr. Erica Brown entitled Inspired Jewish Leadership. It's a wonderful book, and deserves more comment that I'm giving it here. In her introduction, Erica brings up an oft asked question which is germane to my topic. Are leaders born or made? And, of course, the answer is both, nature and nurture are required. The combination of inherent special character and skills, together with the ability to adapt and grow in office are the hallmarks of truly amazing leaders. Erica makes an important observation. She points out that leadership skills can't be taught, but they can be learned. We see this most clearly in Moshe. He began his career as reticent and tongue tied, and ended it forceful and eloquent. The special individuals who become true giants are able to assimilate the requisite skills, and add them to their innate talents. This point is powerfully expressed in our parsha.
When God reminds Moshe that he will not be leading the Jews into
Every successful life, I believe, must go through these transitions. We must constantly be remaking ourselves as we progress through the stages of life. Skills sufficient for childhood aren't good enough for adolescent challenges, and these talents must be augmented to perform well as professional, spouse and parent. To be a good leader you must as well be a good human being, and the fascinating vignettes about these inspiring people provide the lessons we must learn. We must develop the generosity of Miriam, the soul of Aharon and the flexibility of Moshe. Then, maybe, we can lead others, because we've learned to lead ourselves.
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