There is a common thread in our history that when leaders are confronted with assuming the obligations and responsibility of leadership, they often hesitate or outwardly refuse this mantle of duty.
When Moshe was commanded by the Almighty to go to Egypt to challenge Pharaoh and demand that he allow the Jews to leave, Moshe refused. The Torah narrates that he argued with G-d, insisting that he was not the right one to assume this charge. Finally, the Almighty designated his brother Aaron to help carry out the task.
We find this same behavior duplicated when Samuel the prophet anointed Saul as the king of Israel. The prophet tells us that Saul was hiding, as if to say that he felt unworthy of being the king. It was only after continuous encouragement and prodding that Saul finally assumed the role of the first king of Israel.
The same was true of King David. Of all his brothers, he was the most unlikely to become king. He was small and went unnoticed. He was so humble that he felt unworthy of leading the people of Israel.
The great Rabbi Akiva never felt intelligent enough to become a leader of the Jewish community. It was only after the insistence of his wife Rachel that he began the long and arduous pursuit of study, eventually becoming a giant Torah scholar.
What is it about our leaders that they all hesitated to accept leadership roles? Why didn’t they have the self confidence to welcome their responsibility to our people and assume the mantle of leadership?
I have always felt that one can define and recognize brilliant individuals by how unassuming and self-effacing they are. Often, the greater they are, the greater their humility – the more they know their limits and how much they don’t know. People who offer advice readily are frequently the ones whose counsel should not be sought after. Our great leaders did not feel entitled to any of the gifts that were given to them by G-d. This lack of entitlement and their humility and self-effacing character, however, were their most profound qualities.
Often we see in schools children who lack proper derech eretz in their daily exchanges with others, as if they feel that they are entitled to act this way and to behave disrespectfully toward their teachers or other adults. In my experience as a principal for many years, and in my capacity as an evaluator of schools that boast of their excellence, I am constantly amazed by the brazenness and arrogance of some students. This behavior is also widespread in Israel amongst many students.
The Talmud states that in the time of the Messiah, arrogance and conceit will be rampant. Children will have no respect for their elders, and the old and the wise will be looked upon with disdain rather than as a source of wisdom and knowledge.
There is no question that what children see on their television screens or on their computers and cell phones promotes this kind of behavior. And there is no question that the home environment often sends this same message to our children: that they are entitled to anything and everything, and that their teachers are there to serve them and provide for their every whim.
But the onus also falls on our schools to take a stricter policy with regard to respect and menschlechkeit and demanding proper behavior and deportment from our children. Teachers and principals must have the strength and conviction to take action against inappropriate behavior, regardless of how influential the child’s parents may be or how much money they give to the school.
Ultimately, I believe, parents would be thankful for the honesty and dedication of principals and teachers who treat their children fairly and impartially and confront behavior problems head-on.
The task is formidable! But if we are to be successful in producing respectful human beings, these matters must become a priority.