Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Leadership is on my mind this week. We elected a new president of the United States, a leader with a tremendous amount of power. At the same time, lots of other people seem to have been reminded that we too have some level of power and responsibility in making the world a better place, in being leaders.
I’ve been thinking about a section of dialogue in The Kuzari, a text written by medieval Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet Judah Halevi. This text shows that being a righteous individual is not only a prerequisite for leadership, but the two are actually the same.
The Kuzari said, “Tell me how the upright and pious people of your religion behave.”
The Rabbi said, “An upright person is one who is concerned with his country. He provides all of its citizens with their every provision and need. He leads them justly, does not oppress any one of them, and does not give to any one of them more than his rightful share…”
The Kuzari said, “I asked you about an upright person, not a leader!”
The Rabbi said, “An upright person is a leader. All of his sense and attributes – both spiritual and physical – submit themselves to his command. He thus leads them just like a real world leader, as it says, ‘He who rules his spirit is greater than one who captures a city’ (Proverbs 16:32). He has shown that he is fit to govern – that were he to rule over a country, he would preside over it justly, just as he has done with his own body and soul.” (Kuzari III, 2-5)
Interesting to think that what may sound like the requirements of a leader are actually requirements for any righteous individual. Imagine if we all took our responsibility to lead justly, not oppress people, and to give everyone a rightful share. When there is a leadership vacuum, we all must step in:
“In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.” (Pirkei Avot 2:5)
This can also be translated, “in a place where there is no humanity, strive to be human.” We must bring our best selves forward when we can help.
And finally, we do not each have to solve the problems of the world fully, but we must not stand idly by:
“It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:16)
Whether the candidate we elected for president of the United States was our first choice our not, we all have a responsibility to step forward and do our part to lead and to be righteous.
Pronounced: ah-VOTE, Origin: Hebrew, fathers or parents, usually refering to the biblical Patriarchs.