web analytics
April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Covenant Conversation’

Rabbi Lord Sacks: The Art Of True Leadership

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Parshat Tetzaveh is, as is well known, the parshah in which for once Moses takes second place, indeed is not mentioned by name at all, while the focus is on his brother Aaron and on the role he came to occupy and personify, that of high priest (the kohen gadol).

There are many conjectures as to why this went to Aaron as opposed to Moses himself, the most obvious being that this was Moses’s punishment for refusing one time too many God’s request that he lead the Israelites.

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, he will be your spokesman, and you will be his guide” (Exodus 4:13-16).

There is though a deeper message, the principle of the separation of powers, which opposes the concentration of leadership into one person or institution. All human authority needs checks and balances if it is not to become corrupt. In particular, political and religious leadership (keter malchut and keter kehunah) should never be combined. Moses wore the crowns of political and prophetic leadership, Aaron that of priesthood. The division allowed each to be a check on the other.

That is the theory. What is especially interesting is how this works out in terms of personal relationships, in this case between the two brothers, Moses and Aaron. The Torah says relatively little about it, but the hints are fascinating.

Consider, first of all, the passage we’ve just seen from near the beginning of the book of Exodus, when God tells Moses that Aaron is “already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you.” These sound like simple words but they are anything but.

Moses was Aaron’s younger brother, three years his junior. Would it not have been natural for Aaron to be more than a little envious that his younger brother was about to become the leader he himself was not destined to be – all the more so since Moses had not spent his life among his people? He had been, first, an adopted prince of Egypt, and had then taken refuge with Yitro and the Midianites. Relative to Aaron, Moses, his younger brother, was also an outsider. Yet God says, “He will be glad to see you.”

Aaron’s ability to rejoice in his brother’s rise to greatness is particularly striking when set against the entire biblical history of the relationship between brothers thus far. It has been a set of variations on the theme of sibling rivalry: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. The psalm says, “How good and pleasant it is for brothers to live together” (Psalms 133:1) – to which, reading Bereishit, we are likely to add, “and how rare.”

But now comes the second test, this time not of Aaron but of Moses. Moses is now being commanded to create a form of leadership he himself will never be able to exercise, that of the priesthood, and the person he must award it to is his elder brother. Can he do so with the same generosity of spirit that his brother showed toward him? Note how the Torah emphasizes God’s insistence that it be Moses who bestows this honor on Aaron.

Three times the word “v’atah – and you,” is used early on in the parshah:

And you command the Israelites [about the oil for the menorah that Aaron and his sons would keep alight]” (27:20).

And you bring Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, near to you …” (28:1).

And you speak to all the wise-hearted people [and command them to make the vestments Aaron and the other priests would wear]” (28:3).

Moses must show the people – and Aaron himself – that he has the humility, the tzimtzum, the power of self-effacement, needed to make space for someone else to share in the leadership of the people, someone whose strengths are not yours, whose role is different from yours, someone who may be more popular, closer to the people, than you are – as in fact Aaron turned out to be.

Lehavdil: In 2005 the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin published an influential book about Abraham Lincoln, entitled Team of Rivals. In it she tells the story of how Lincoln appointed to his cabinet the three men who had opposed him as candidate for the Republican Party’s leadership. William Henry Seward, who had been expected to win, eventually said of him that “his magnanimity is almost superhuman … the President is the best of us.” It takes a special kind of character to make space for those whom one is entitled to see as rivals. Early on, Aaron showed that character in relation to Moses, and now Moses is called on to show it to Aaron.

Closeness And Distance

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

What do porcupines do in winter? asked Schopenhauer. If they come too close to one another, they injure each other. If they stay too far apart, they freeze. Life, for porcupines, is a delicate balance between closeness and distance. It is hard to get it right and dangerous to get it wrong. And so it is for us.

That is the force of the word that gives our parshah its name: Vayigash (and he came close).

“Then Judah came close to him and said, ‘Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord; do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself’ ” (Genesis 44:18).

For perhaps the first time in his life, Judah came close to his brother Joseph. The irony is, of course, that he did not know it was Joseph. But that one act of coming close melted all of Joseph’s reserve, all his defenses, and as if unable to stop himself, he finally disclosed his identity: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ ” (45:3)

How can we be sure that vayigash is the key word? Because it contrasts with another verse, many chapters and many years earlier. “But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him” (37:18).

Right at the beginning of the story, when Joseph was sent by his father to see how the brothers were doing tending the sheep, they saw him from far away, from a distance. Imagine the scene. They can’t see his face. All they can see is the richly ornamented cloak, the “coat of many colors,” that so upsets them because it constantly reminds them that it is he – and not they – whom their father loves.

From far away we don’t see people as human beings, and when we stop seeing people as human beings and they instead become symbols, objects of envy or hate, people can do bad things to one another. The whole tragedy of Joseph and his brothers was distance. They were too far apart in every way. Which is why it was only when Judah came close to Joseph – vayigash – that the coldness between them thawed, and they became brothers, not strangers to one another.

Too much distance and we freeze. But if we get too close we can injure one another. That was the story of Jacob and Esau. Think about it. Jacob bought Esau’s birthright. He stole his blessing. He wore Esau’s clothes. He borrowed his identity. Even when they were born, Jacob was clutching Esau’s heel.

It was only when there was a distance between them – the 22 years in which Jacob was away from home, with Lavan – that the relationship healed, so that when they met again, despite Jacob’s fears, Esau embraced and kissed him and treated him like a brother and a friend.

Too close and we hurt one another. Too distant and we freeze.

How then do we make and sustain relationships if the balance is so fine and it is so easy to get it wrong? The Torah’s answer – already there in the first chapter of the Torah – is: first separate, then join. The verb lehavdil, to separate, appears five times in the first chapter of Bereishit: God separates light from darkness, the upper and lower waters, sea and dry land. Separation is at the heart of Jewish law – between holy and profane, pure and impure, permitted and forbidden. In Judaism kadosh, holy, means separation. To sanctify is to separate. Why? Because when we separate, we create order. We defeat chaos. We give everything and everyone their space. I am I and not you. You are you and not I. Once we respect our difference and distance, then we can join without doing damage to one another.

The most beautiful symbol of the problem and its resolution is the ceremony of Havdalah at the end of Shabbat – and especially the Havdalah candle. The wicks are separate but the flame they make is joined. So it is between husband and wife. So it is between parent and child. And so it is, or should be, between brothers. Distance damaged the relationship between Judah and Joseph. Vayigash – Judah’s act of drawing close – restored it.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth since 1991, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Koren Sacks Rosh HaShana Mahzor” (Koren Publishers Jerusalem).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/closeness-and-distance/2011/12/29/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: