The measure of a leader

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg is Senior Rabbi of United Hebrew Congregation.

By Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

The political season has arrived!  There is buzz all around as to who is truly electable and who will best represent our country and the desires of the voters.  And, certainly with every election year, at least for me, comes the internal struggle with what it means to be a leader, what qualities I desire in a leader, and the eternal question of how much an individual’s persona or personal life matters with regard to one’s leadership abilities. 

This week’s parashah, Bo, and the parshiot for the next couple of weeks, focus on Moses.  Moses is the leader par excellence for the Jewish people, and I truly believe there are lessons we can learn from his leadership style and abilities that can help guide us in this election year and beyond as we think about whom the next generation of our leaders will be. 

Moses was not a charismatic man.  He wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t experienced and he even stuttered when he spoke.  But, when he was called to serve, he did so and took responsibility, even at risk to his own life. 

Pirkei Avot teaches us: “In the place where there is no man, strive to be a man.”  This was Moses.  He was humble and not interested in self-promotion, however, he believed in the task.  He believed that his people needed help in being freed from slavery, and although initially reluctant he stepped up to job after realizing no one else would.  While Moses was the leader, it was the task that was most important, not his title. It was also important to him to identify with his people and to truly listen to them.  He was raised in Pharaoh’s palace, not among the Israelites, but in order to lead them, I think he understood that he had to live with them, understand them, and ultimately identify with them-see himself as an Israelite. (By birth he was, but he didn’t know that initially.)

Ultimately, it did not matter what Moses looked like, how old he was, that he stuttered, or even that he did not grow up amongst the Israelites.  What did matter was that Moses was himself, and this should be true of all great leaders.  Therefore the most important questions we must ask ourselves in this political year are:  Does this leader understand the task at hand? Does he or she acknowledge and speak on behalf of my needs and those of my community?  Is this a leader who is flexible, who will grow in his or her position? Is this someone who will surround him or herself with the right counsel and listen to the needs of all?  We should expect that our leaders be themselves and face their tasks to the best of their abilities. 

As we journey forward and contemplate our next generation of leaders, be they corporate CEOs, university presidents, or even the President of the United States, let us choose them not for their persona but because we believe in their message, respect their character, and trust their judgment.