Jeremiah was the leader who defined for all time the role of Jews in the Diaspora: “Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its prosperity you shall prosper” (Jeremiah 29: 7) – the first statement in history of what it is to be a creative minority.
Why did this universal perspective matter? Because those who care only for their own people are chauvinists. They create false expectations, narrow and self-regarding emotions, and bravado rather than real courage.
Moses had to show (as he did when he rescued Jethro’s daughters from the local shepherds, Ex. 2: 17) that he cared for non-Israelites as well as Israelites. Jeremiah was told by God to become a “prophet to the nations,” not just to Israel (Jer. 1: 5). Isaiah in one of the most remarkable prophecies of all time showed as much concern for Egypt and Assyria, Israel’s enemies, as for Israel itself (Is. 19: 19-25).
Great leaders are great not just because they care for their own people – everyone except a self-hater does that – but because they care for humanity. That is what gives their devotion to their own people its dignity and moral strength.
To be an agent of hope, to love the people you lead, and to widen their horizons to embrace humanity as a whole – that is the kind of leadership that gives people the ability to recover from crisis and move on. It is what made Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah three of the greatest leaders of all time.
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.”
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