web analytics
May 5, 2015 / 16 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


The Sins of a Leader

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Leaders make mistakes. That is inevitable. So, strikingly, Parshas Vayikra implies. The real issue is how he or she responds to those mistakes.

The Torah makes this point in a very subtle way. Our parshah deals with sin offerings to be brought when people have made mistakes. The technical term for this is “shegagah,” meaning inadvertent wrongdoing. You did something, not knowing it was forbidden, either because you forgot or did not know the law, or because you were unaware of certain facts. You may, for instance, have carried something in a public place on Shabbat, either because you did not know it was forbidden to carry or because you forgot it was Shabbat.

The Torah prescribes different sin offerings, depending on who made the mistake. It enumerates four categories. First is the high priest, second is “the whole community” (understood to mean the great Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court), a third is “the leader” (nasi), and the fourth is an ordinary individual.

In three of the four cases, the law is introduced by the word “im” (if) – if such a person commits a sin. In the case of the leader, however, the law is prefaced by the word “asher” (when). It is possible that a high priest, the Supreme Court or an individual may err. But in the case of a leader, it is probable or even certain. Leaders make mistakes. It is the occupational hazard of their role. Talking about the sin of a nasi, the Torah uses the word “when,” not “if.”

Nasi is the generic word for a leader: a ruler, king, judge, elder, or prince. Usually it refers to the holder of political power. In Mishnaic times, the nasi, the most famous of whom were leaders from the family of Hillel, had a quasi-governmental role as representative of the Jewish people to the Roman government. Rabbi Moses Sofer (Bratislava, 1762-1839), in one of his responses, examines the question of why, when positions of Torah leadership are never dynastic (passed from father to son), the role of nasi was an exception. Often it did pass from father to son. The answer he gives (and it is historically insightful) is that with the decline of monarchy in the Second Temple period and thereafter, the nasi took on many of the roles of a king. His role, internally and externally, was as much political and diplomatic as religious. That in general is what is meant by the word “nasi.”

Why does the Torah consider this type of leadership particularly prone to error? The commentators offer three possible explanations. Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno cites the phrase “But Yeshurun waxed fat, and kicked” (Deuteronomy 32:15). Those who have advantages over others, whether of wealth or power, can lose their moral sense. Rabbeinu Bachya agrees, suggesting that rulers tend to become haughty. Implicit in these commentators – it is in fact a major theme of Tanach as a whole – is the idea later stated by Lord Acton in the aphorism, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Rabbi Elie Munk, citing the Zohar, offers a second explanation. The high priest and the Sanhedrin were in constant contact with the holy. They lived in a world of ideals. The king or political ruler, by contrast, was involved in secular affairs: war and peace, the administration of government, and international relations. He was more likely to sin because his day-to-day concerns were not religious but pragmatic.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk points out that a king was especially vulnerable to being led astray by popular sentiment. Neither a priest nor a judge in the Sanhedrin were answerable to the people. The king, however, relied on popular support. Without that he could be deposed. But this is laden with risk. Doing what the people want is not always doing what God wants. That, Rabbi Meir Simcha argues, is what led David to order a census (II Samuel: 24), and Zedekiah to ignore the advice of Jeremiah and rebel against the king of Babylon (II Chronicles: 36). Thus, for a whole series of reasons, a political leader is more exposed to temptation and error than a priest or judge.

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.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Sins of a Leader”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Rioters smash window of police car in Baltimore.
The Baltimore Riots and Jewish Gangs
Latest Judaism Stories
Safar-050115-Califlower

Cauliflower is one of my favorite ingredients to cook with – it blends so easily into whatever dish I am preparing.

Torat-Hakehillah-logo-NEW

It’s an interesting idea, that love is illustrated by understanding another’s needs.

Niehaus-050115

“Keeping” Shabbos means to guard it and make sure to keep every aspect and detail of it.

Winiarz-Shaya-logo

Pesach is a time when we can grow in this perspective. But merely spending a week working on something will not leave any lasting impression on us.

“There is a diamond necklace that I wear on special occasions,” Mrs. Miller told her husband. “It was recently appraised at $6,000. If need be, we can give that as collateral.”

Morah for a parent is connected to shemiras Shabbos because the Shechina shines on, and through, the Sabbath.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him.” – Vayikra 19:17   When the Torah mentions the obligation to rebuke a fellow Jew, it ends with the words “and do not carry a sin because of him.” The Targum translates […]

The Bais Halevi answers that we must properly define what is considered to be “in the middle of a mitzvah.”

They had realized they would be far from civilization and kosher food and had packed plenty of fresh and canned food as well as making sure there was a microwave in their room which they knew how to kasher.

He was deeply saddened by the thought of her going to her final resting place alone and that it appeared as if she knew no one and had no family who cared about her.

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.

M. Goldman
(Via E-mail)

The Debt Lives On
‘The Orphans’ Mitzvah To Repay Their Father’s Debts’
(Ketubot 91b)

Rabbi Fohrman asks what’s the connection between animal sacrifices and leaving crops for the poor?

Putting parents before oneself is a step toward putting the more abstract concept of God before self

In her diary, Anne Frank wrote words that provided hope for a humanity faced with suffering.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Rambam: Eating blood’s forbidden because connected to idolatry;Ramban: We’re affected by what we eat

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

There is something quite distinctive about the biblical approach to time.

Why should unintentional sins require atonement? What guilt exists when requisite intent is lacking?

Like Shabbat points to something beyond time, the people Israel points to something beyond history

The Sabbath is a full dress rehearsal for an ideal society that has not yet come to pass-but will

Jewish prayer is a convergence of 2 modes of biblical spirituality, exemplified by Moses and Aaron

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

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/the-sins-of-a-leader/2014/03/06/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: