Respect for leaders is almost extinct today. We’ve become cynical to the extreme, believing that our leaders frequently talk out of both sides of their mouths, saying, not what they believe, but what they think you want them to say and following the polls rather than their morals.
In such an environment, it’s refreshing to read about the development of Moshe Rabbeinu – one of the greatest leaders of all time – at the beginning of Sefer Shemos. When Moshe saw the burning bush, he said, “Let me turn now and investigate this amazing sight.” Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, points out that if Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t have an eager desire to learn – as manifested by his turn to investigate the strange burning bush – he would have missed the revelation of Hashem. Thus, the first trait of greatness is yearning to learn more.
As a young man, raised with royal treatment in Pharaoh’s palace, Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t allow himself to relax in splendor. Rather, he went out to his suffering brethren and shared in their fate. That’s another great quality of leaders – namely, “nosei b’ol im chaveiro – sharing in another’s suffering.” Thus, Rebbetzin Kotler, zt”l, for example, never put sugar in her coffee or tea after the Holocaust.
Later, when Moshe Rabbeinu saw an injustice being committed against one of his brethren, he didn’t consider his security or comfort; rather, he acted with alacrity in defense of his own. Then, upon seeing the misbehavior of some of his brethren, he didn’t concern himself with the repercussions, but immediately chastised them properly. How many lessons can leaders learn from the life of Moshe Rabbeinu, even from the years of his youth!
Of course, another attribute of Moshe Rabbeinu was his unparalleled humility. His was not a leadership motivated by the need for accolades or fanfare. It wasn’t fueled by a desire for power or adoration. Indeed, for seven days and nights, he turned down Hashem’s offer to lead His people. Such behavior speaks volumes about the correct motivation for aspiring young leaders.
Later, Moshe Rabbeinu is instructed to pray for his archenemy, Mitzrayim, and to ask Hashem to remove plagues from the land. I believe Moshe was asked to do this because an important leadership quality is being able to pray for, and even help, one’s antagonists. Thus, in the desert, Moshe Rabbeinu was able to care lovingly for a nation about which he himself later testified, “Od me’at u’skaluni – A little bit more and they would stone me.”
Similarly, we find that Mordechai, although he was only “ratzui l’rov echav – favored by some of the people,” he was “doveir shalom l’chol daro – he sought peace for all the people.” A tough test of leadership is to be able to care for and help even the malcontents and antagonists.
Moshe Rabbeinu’s willingness to sacrifice personal ambition for the benefit of the klal is yet another extraordinary example of his greatness as a leader. At Har Sinai, he reached the zenith of his dreams, bringing down G-d’s Torah to the Jewish people. Yet, he willingly smashed the luchos so that the worshippers of the golden calf would be spared from defying the written words he held in his hand. So too, with awesome courage he declared, “If you do not forgive them, Hashem, macheini na mi’sifricha – blot me out from your Torah.”
We all know the famous medrash that when Moshe was a shepherd, a lone sheep wandered far from the flock. Upon finding it, Moshe saw that it was ill and carried it back upon his shoulders. Hashem commented, “Since you displayed such compassion to one of your flock, I desire you to lead My flock.” Thus, we see that mercy, compassion, kindness, and care are necessary components of true Jewish leadership.
Let’s not fall into the trap of being cynical about our leaders. It’s natural to react to someone criticizing us by wanting to take him down a peg or two. It’s much easier to do that than to consider that he might be right – and that you need improvement.
Thus, people often disparage their own rabbis while still manifesting great respect for other rabbanim. They do so not only because they grow weary and accustomed to their own rav over the years. It’s also because other rabbanim have not repeatedly chastised them personally.
Let’s also not succumb to the easy habit of always suspecting our own rabbis and roshei yeshiva of doing things for the sake of kavod. Let’s rather consider that by elevating the stature of our leaders, we ensure that our children will look up to them, be more likely to listen to them, and have a greater desire to be like them. In short, let’s aspire to be rewarded as per the Talmud’s statement, “One who honors rabbanim will have children who are talmidei chachamim.”