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The Ingredients of Leadership

By TorahLab

Does the leader affect the generation or does the generation affect the leader?
If a leader has not perfected himself before ascending to leadership, his people will not reach perfection.  If, however, he elevates himself first, his people will become elevated. (Adra Rabba 174) Rabbi Jose said “Israel was exiled and the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because its leaders were corrupt.  The spiritual state of the leaders of the Jewish people will become the spiritual state of all Israel.” (Zohar Vayikrah 349)

Why do great leaders have faults?
Sometimes it is the very fault of the leader which allows him and his people to connect.  If the righteous man would be perfect there would be no place for the people to connect.  It is for this reason that the Talmud tells us that a leader must always have a skeleton in his closet (lit. a sack of reptiles hanging behind him) so that he can always have a way to connect with his people. (Toldos Yaacov Yosef; K'doshim)

The greatness of a leader in Israel is only according to the degree of greatness of the Jewish people.  For he is them.  All of the greatness of Moses was because of the Jewish people.  When the Jewish people sinned G-d told him “Descend!” Now that the people are sinning you too must descend from your greatness. (Rabbi Yonason Eibshitz, Yeiros Dvash Drush 4), Everything depends on the spiritual level of the generation.  If the generation merits, its scholar will be revered by all.  Everyone will enjoy his teachings and they will walk in the light of his righteousness.  If the generation does not merit, its' teacher will be in hiding.  His greatness will never shine to the world. The leader will not be able to lead. (Ibid. Drush 14)

Should the leader be soft-spoken and gentle or hard-line and zealous?

G-d does not elevate a person to a position of leadership before testing him in small matters. Moses was a shepherd. A lamb once ran away from his flock. Moses followed it until it reached some bushes near a pond of water. There it halted and began to drink. Moses said, 'I didn't know you ran all this way because you were thirsty; you must be tired.' He lifted the lamb onto his shoulders and carried it back to his flock. Said G-d, 'You who tend to the sheep with such mercy will be a compassionate leader for My sheep Yisroel.' (Midrash Rabba Shmos 2;2)

The King of Israel should be humble and should never conduct himself with more arrogance than is necessary.... He should always take mercy on both young and old and have compassion on people even of the lowest stature. When he speaks to the community, he should always speak softly… There is none greater than our teacher Moses and he said “And What am I” The king should bare the burden and the pain of his community just as a parent bares the burden of his child.  The Torah call him a shepherd.  On a shepherd it says, he picked the little sheep up in his hand and carried him on his shoulder. (Rambam, Laws of King Chapter 2;6)

A leader is obligated to carry the people and never complain about the pain or burden. On the contrary the greater the burden, the greater his obligation to conduct himself with gentleness and without anger.  Woe onto me, that I myself have often fallen into anger when my community becomes too heavy.  This is unacceptable.  The Ramban writes that the main sin of Moses for hitting the rock was that he spoke to the people with anger.  He should have spoken gently.  (Rabbi Yonason Eibshitz,Yeiros Dvash Drush 12)

Pinchos the son of Elazar son of Aaron the Kohen saw ... took a spear in his hand.... and pierced them both… Therefore I give him my covenant of peace, and it shall be for him and his offspring after him a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he took vengeance for his G-d. (Numbers 25; 7-13)
Mordechei would not kneel and would not bow. (Esther 3;2)

It is forbidden to lead the people with arrogance but rather with humbleness and fear.  Any leader who places excessive fear on the people, not for the sake of heaven will be punished… But it is also forbidden for the people to treat their leaders with disrespect even if they are ignorant in the ways of the Torah.  One should never trample upon the heads of the holy people.  Even though they are simpletons they are still the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They are still bearing the pain and burden of the community as did our teacher Moses.  (Rambam, Shoftim, Laws of Sandhedrin Chapter 25;12)

One should not appoint a leader for the people unless a heap of reptiles hangs behind him. [Skeletons in the closet] (Yoma 22B) This means that even though he himself is appropriate for leadership, if he gets carried away and becomes arrogant we tell him to look back at his own past before being arrogant with the people.  The reason why the leadership of Saul did not last is because he had no fault in his family history.  This brought him to arrogance and his reign ended.  (Meiri Yoma 22B)

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