From what I’ve seen on the news especially lately, in America and in Israel, it seems were are facing a widespread crisis in leadership. I’ve heard a lot of yelling and name-calling, witnessed a lot of finger-pointing, observed political maneuvering, and have felt disgusted by it all. No one — neither politicians here nor there — seems able to walk-the-walk.
In Germany and some other countries in the European Union, however, leadership agreed to take in thousands of Syrian refugees. They now are making decisive strides toward the challenging process of absorbing them; steps that undoubtedly will change their countries’ future. What made them embark upon these efforts while others refused?
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On Simchat Torah, a holiday that took place on Tuesday, Torah scrolls were rolled back to the beginning of the Five Books of Moses. The first book is Genesis — Beresheet. And so, this Shabbat, we will read about what took place “in the beginning…” when God created everything.
The book of Genesis has always been my favorite. It is complete with stories of intrigue and family feuds. It reminds us that even our patriarchs and matriarchs had challenging marriages, issues with infertility, frustrations with sibling rivalries, and long-standing disagreements with extended family members and enemies. But at the same time, the book teaches us about leadership; we read many examples of how leaders fail. From them all, we learn how we should dare to be different.
It was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations in the United Kingdom, who opened my own eyes to the bible’s leadership lessons through his Covenant & Conversation leadership series that he published in 2013. Over the next two weeks, in the first two Torah portions, Sacks examines the role model/leadership qualities of Adam, Cain, and then Noah. He poses the question, where did they each go wrong? His answers — though thematic — are very different.
Adam, when confronted by God, blamed Eve or the Serpent for eating from the forbidden tree. He never once assumed any personal responsibility for wrong-doings. Cain, when confronted by God, accepted no moral responsibilitiy for killing his brother, Abel. And Noah, in dealing with the foretold rains and flooding, accepted no responsibility on behalf of the collective. Now, whether or not these men can truly be seen as role models or leaders is irrelevant. It is each man’s behavior — his words, actions, and deeds — that belies his true character.
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If you are a leader — whether in your field, in your home, on a board, in a business, etc. — or aspire to be one, I challenge you to read the fifty-four entries in Rabbi Sack’s leadership series. Yes, you’ll learn a little bit of Torah, but more importantly you’ll learn about the things that true leaders should say, do, and be aware of if they truly want to inspire and rally others to achieve change. If you don’t consider yourself a leader, but know one, please pass this along to him or her.
Now, more than ever, we need courageous and conscientious leaders who will think outside the box, challenge the status quo, empower others, ignite passion, and paint a compelling vision of the future for us all.