web analytics
September 23, 2014 / 28 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



The Sins of a Leader

Rabbi Sacks

There are further reasons. One is that politics is an arena of conflict. It deals in matters – specifically wealth and power – that are, in the short term, zero-sum games. The more I have, the less you have. Seeking to maximize the benefits to myself or my group, I come into conflict with others who seek to maximize benefits to themselves or their group. The politics of free societies is always conflict-ridden. The only societies where there is no conflict are tyrannical or totalitarian ones in which dissenting voices are suppressed – and Judaism is a standing protest against tyranny. So in a free society, whatever course a politician takes, it will please some and anger others. From this, there is no escape.

Politics involves difficult judgments. A leader must balance competing claims, and will sometimes get it wrong. One example – one of the most fateful in Jewish history – occurred after the death of King Solomon (I Kings 12:1-15). People came to his son and successor, Rehoboam, complaining that Solomon had imposed unsustainable burdens on the population, particularly during the building of the Temple. Led by Jeroboam, they asked the new king to reduce the burden. Rehoboam asked his father’s counselors for advice. They told him to concede to the people’s demand. Serve them, they said, and they will serve you. Rehoboam however turned to his own friends, who told him the opposite. Reject the request. Show the people you are a strong leader who cannot be intimidated.

It was disastrous advice, and the result was tragic. The kingdom split in two, the ten northern tribes following Jeroboam, leaving only the southern tribes, generically known as “Judah,” loyal to the king. For Israel as a people in its own land, it was the beginning of the end. Always a small people surrounded by large and powerful empires, it needed unity, high morale and a strong sense of destiny to survive. Divided, it was only a matter of time before both nations – Israel in the north, Judah in the south – fell to other powers.

The reason leaders – as opposed to judges and priests – cannot avoid making mistakes is that there is no textbook that infallibly teaches you how to lead. Priests and judges follow laws. For leadership there are no laws because every situation is unique. Isaiah Berlin wrote in his essay, Political Judgement, that in the realm of political action, there are few laws and what is needed instead is skill in reading a situation. Successful statesmen “do not think in general terms.” Instead “they grasp the unique combination of characteristics that constitute this particular situation – this and no other.” Berlin compares this to the gift possessed by great novelists like Tolstoy and Proust. Applying inflexible rules to a constantly shifting political landscape destroys societies. Communism was like that. In free societies, people change, culture changes, the world beyond a nation’s borders does not stand still. So a politician will find that what worked a decade or a century ago does not work now. In politics it is easy to get it wrong, hard to get it right.

There is one more reason why leadership is so challenging. It is alluded to by the Mishnaic sage, Rabbi Nehemiah, commenting on the verse, “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck your hand in pledge for another” (Proverbs 6:1):

So long as a man is an associate [i.e. concerned only with personal piety], he need not be concerned with the community and is not punished on account of it. But once a man has been placed at the head and has donned the cloak of office, he may not say: I have to look after my welfare; I am not concerned with the community. Instead, the whole burden of communal affairs rests on him. If he sees a man doing violence to his fellow, or committing a transgression, and does not seek to prevent him, he is punished on account of him, and the holy spirit cries out: “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor” – meaning, you are responsible for him … “you have entered the gladiatorial arena, and he who enters the arena is either conquered or conquers” (Exodus Rabbah, 27:9).

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.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Drone Intercept Along Syrian Border 1
Israel Shoots Down Syrian Sukhoi-24 Fighter Plane Infiltrating Israeli Airspace
Latest Judaism Stories
The mothers of the three Israeli boys kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists were at the United Nations on June 23, 2014. Naftali Frenkel's mother addressed the UN Human Rights Council.

A statement issued by the Frenkel, Yifrach and Sha’ar families thanks Israel for ‘justice served.’

Teens-091214-Shofar

Hamas’ tunnels were destroyed as were plans for their unparalleled terror attacks on Rosh Hashana.

Hertzberg-092614

Perhaps the most important leadership lesson Elkana taught us is to never underestimate the difference a single person can make.

Teller-Rabbi-Hanoch-NEW

“he’s my rabbi” the Black painter said with pride, pulling out a photo of the Rebbe from his wallet

The Torah notes that even when we are dispersed God will return us to Him.

Simply, for Rambam the number 14 (2×7) was his favored organizing principle.

One of the cornerstones of our Jewish life is chesed, kindness. Chesed can only be taught by example

Our understanding of what is and what is not possible creates imagined ceilings of opportunity for us.

This young, innocent child gave me a powerful, warm surge of energy and strength.

The Chafetz Chaim answered that there are two forms of teshuvah; teshuvah m’ahava and teshuvah m’yirah.

Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?

Name Withheld

A Role Reversal
‘Return, O Wayward Sons…’
(Chagigah 15a)

When the Kleins returned, however, they were dismayed to see that the renters did a poor job cleaning up after themselves.

In Parshas Re’eh the Torah tells us about the bechira to adhere to the commandments of Hashem and refrain from sin. In Parshas Nitzavim, the Torah tells us that we have the choice to repent after we have sinned.

As Moshe is about to die, why does God tell him about how the Israelites will ruin everything?

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

Simply, for Rambam the number 14 (2×7) was his favored organizing principle.

Rabbi Sacks

Torah isn’t a theological treatise or a metaphysical system but a series of stories linked over time

We believe that God created each of us, regardless of color, class, culture or creed, in His image.

Judaism is a religion of love but also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts.

Culture is not nature. There are causes in nature, but only in culture are there meanings.

Blind obedience is not a virtue in Judaism. God wants us to understand the laws He has commanded us

Israel shows the world that a people does not have to be large in order to be great.

When someone exercises power over us, they diminish us; when someone teaches us, they help us grow.

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: