Parashat D'varim

Attributes of a Leader

Moses shares his views on leadership.

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What if a potential judge has just one of these attributes? He should be chosen, only if he possesses the quality of hayyil-- valor, strength, or capability. Another verse in the Bible also cites the quality of hayyil as constituting the core value of a woman of valor, adding, "who can find her?" (Proverbs 31:10) It is significant that this particular Biblical verse is chosen, given that in traditional Jewish law, women may not serve as judges.

Returning to the issue of leader as rebuker, the midrash inserts a line that does not actually appear in the Biblical text. God is imagined as saying, "Moses, you have rebuked the people. They have accepted the rebuke meekly, now bless them." (Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:9)

It is relevant to assess leadership in the Jewish community today in view of these midrashic descriptions of ideal leadership inspired by Moses' farewell speech. Most people would agree that communal leaders should do no harm and should be capable. Yet what about promoting a model of shared leadership? In a variety of Jewish institutions, this model is not yet in place. As for the quality of knowing both how to rebuke as well as how to bless people, that skill, in most cases, needs further cultivation.

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Lewis Warshauer teaches topics in Judaism to adult study groups in a variety of venues. Among his interests are family dynamics in the Bible and art as interpretation of Jewish texts. He was ordained at Jewish Theological Seminary and is based in New York.