As Purim approaches, thousands of Israeli children and families grapple with poverty
Lehavdil elef havdalot: no comparison is intended between the religious heroes of Tanach and political heroes of the modern world. They are different types, living in different ages, functioning in different spheres. Yet we find a similar phenomenon in one of the great figures of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill. Throughout much of his life he was prone to periods of acute depression. He called it “the black dog.” He told his daughter, “I have achieved a great deal to achieve nothing in the end.” He told a friend that “he prays every day for death.” In 1944 he told his doctor, Lord Moran, that he kept himself from standing close to a train platform or overlooking the side of a ship because he might be tempted to commit suicide: “A second’s desperation would end everything.” (These quotes are taken from Anthony Storr’s Churchill’s Black Dog.)
Why are the greatest so often haunted by a sense of failure? Storr, in the book mentioned above, offers some compelling psychological insights. But at the simplest level we see certain common features, at least among the biblical prophets: a passionate drive to change the world, combined with a deep sense of personal inadequacy. In Exodus 3:11, Moses says, “Who am I … that I should lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” Jeremiah says, “I cannot speak: I am only a child” (Jeremiah 1:6). Jonah tries to flee from his mission. The very sense of responsibility that leads a prophet to heed the call of God can lead him to blame himself when the people around him do not heed the same call.
Yet it is that same inner voice that ultimately holds the cure. The prophet does not believe in himself: he believes in God. He does not undertake to lead because he sees himself as a leader, but because he sees a task to be done and no one else willing to do it. His greatness lies not within himself but beyond himself: in his sense of being summoned to a task that must be done – however inadequate he knows himself to be.
Despair can be part of leadership itself. For when the prophet sees himself reviled, rebuked, criticized; when his words fall on stony ground; when he sees people listening to what they want to hear, not what they need to hear – that is when the last layers of self are burned away, leaving only the task, the mission, the call. When that happens, a new greatness is born. It now no longer matters that the prophet is unpopular and unheeded. All that matters is the work and the One who has summoned him to it. That is when the prophet arrives at the truth stated by Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to stand aside from it” (Avot 2:16).
Again, without seeking to equate the sacred and the secular, I end with some words spoken by Theodore Roosevelt (in a speech to students at the Sorbonne, Paris on April 23, 1910), which sum up both the challenge and the consolation of leadership in cadences of timeless eloquence:
It is not the critic who counts, Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, Or where the doer of deeds could actually have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, Whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, Who strives valiantly, Who errs and comes short again and again – Because there is no effort without error and shortcomings – But who does actually strive to do the deed, Who knows great enthusiasm, great devotion, Who spends himself in a worthy cause, Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement And who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly – So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls Who know neither victory nor defeat.
Leadership in a noble cause can bring despair. But it also is the cure.
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
To the glee of all Israel haters it was Netanyahu who was accused of endangering US-Israel relations
Over and over, the text tells us about “keeping” Shabbat, about holiness, and a covenant – but why?
Aharon’s guilt with the golden calf is not clear-cut. What if Moshe were in his brother’s place?
When Hashem told Moshe of the option to destroy the people and make him and his descendants into a great nation, Hashem was telling Moshe that it is up to him.
An Auto Accident
‘All Agree That They Are Exempt’
Question: If Abraham was commanded to circumcise his descendants on the eighth day, why do Arabs – who claim to descend from Abraham through Yishmael – wait until their children are 13 to circumcise them? I am aware that this is a matter of little consequence to our people. Nevertheless, this inconsistency is one that piques my curiosity.
Why would the exemption of women from donating the half shekel exempt them from davening Musaf?
This concept should be very relevant to us as we, too, should be happy beyond description.
The Holocaust was the latest attempt of Amalek to destroy the special bond that we enjoy with God.
One can drink up to the Talmud’s criterion to confuse Mordechai and Haman-but not beyond.
“The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esav” gives great insight to Purim
Purim is the battleground of extremes, Amalek and Yisrael, with Zoroastrian Persia in between.
The Sabbath is a full dress rehearsal for an ideal society that has not yet come to pass-but will
With the synagogue, “Judaism created one of the greatest revolutions in the history of religion”
By wisdom, we come to understand G-d via creation; By Torah we understand G-d through His revelation
Torah opposes slavery; G-d desires the free worship of free human beings, yet slavery’s permitted-?!
Pharaoh perverted symbols of life (the Nile and midwives) into agents of death.
The 5th cup is supported by a 5th expression of Deliverance: “And I will bring you to the land…”
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/leadership-beyond-despair/2013/05/22/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: