What Does It Mean To Be A Leader?
What Are the Obligations of Leaders?

מַלְכָּהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה, בְּמִשְׁפָּט שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֶׂה, מַעֲמִיד אֶת הָאָרֶץ...אִם מֵשִׁים אָדָם עַצְמוֹ כַּתְּרוּמָה הַזּוֹ שֶׁמֻּשְׁלֶכֶת בְּזָוִית הַבַּית וְאוֹמֵר: מַה לִּי בְּטֹרַח הַצִּבּוּר. ?מַה לִּי בְּדִינֵיהֶם?

?מַה לִּי לִשְׁמֹעַ קוֹלָם? שָׁלוֹם עָלַיִךְ נַפְשִׁי! הֲרֵי זֶה מַחֲרִיב אֶת הָעוֹלָם.

If a person of learning participates in public affairs and serves as judge or arbiter, he gives stability to the land... But if he sits in his home and says to himself, “What have the affairs of society to do with me?... Why should I trouble myself with the people’s voices of protest? Let my soul dwell in peace!”—if he does this, he overthrows the world. [translation by Hazon]

(יג) אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בְּנוֹתְנֵי צְדָקָה. הָרוֹצֶה שֶׁיִּתֵּן וְלֹא יִתְּנוּ אֲחֵרִים, עֵינוֹ רָעָה בְּשֶׁל אֲחֵרִים. יִתְּנוּ אֲחֵרִים וְהוּא לֹא יִתֵּן, עֵינוֹ רָעָה בְשֶׁלּוֹ. יִתֵּן וְיִתְּנוּ אֲחֵרִים, חָסִיד. לֹא יִתֵּן וְלֹא יִתְּנוּ אֲחֵרִים, רָשָׁע:

There are four types of charity givers. One who wishes to give, but that others should not give: their eye is evil towards that which belongs to others; One who wishes that others should give, but that they themselves should not give: their eye is evil towards that which is their own; One who desires that they themselves should give, and that others should give: they are pious; One who desires that they themselves should not give and that others too should not give: they are wicked. [translation by USCJ, edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What do you feel about the connection between a leader's giving of tzedakah and others' giving of tzedakah?

2. How might this extend to other responsibilities of a leader?

(ז) רַבִּי תַּנְחוּמָא בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר וְרַבִּי מְנַחֵם בְּשֵׁם רַב אָמַר כָּל הָאֻמָנִיּוֹת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן לְמָדָם, מַאי טַעְמֵיהּ (ישעיה מד, יא): וְחָרָשִׁים הֵמָּה מֵאָדָם, מֵאָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן. רַבָּנָן אָמְרִין אֲפִלּוּ סִרְגּוּלוֹ שֶׁל סֵפֶר, אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן לְמָדוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית ה, א): זֶה סֵפֶר, הוּא וְסִרְגּוּלוֹ. (בראשית ה, א): בְּיוֹם בְּרֹא אֱלֹהִים אָדָם, הָדָא מְסַיְּעָא לְהַהִיא דְּאָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה שָׁלשׁ פְּלָאִים נַעֲשׂוּ בְּאוֹתוֹ הַיּוֹם, בּוֹ בַּיּוֹם נִבְרְאוּ, בּוֹ בַּיּוֹם שִׁמְשׁוּ, בּוֹ בַּיּוֹם הוֹצִיאוּ תּוֹלָדוֹת. בֶּן עֲזַאי אוֹמֵר זֶה סֵפֶר תּוֹלְדֹת אָדָם, זֶה כְּלַל גָּדוֹל בַּתּוֹרָה, רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמֵר (ויקרא יט, יח): וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, זֶה כְּלַל גָּדוֹל בַּתּוֹרָה, שֶׁלֹא תֹאמַר הוֹאִיל וְנִתְבַּזֵּיתִי יִתְבַּזֶה חֲבֵרִי עִמִּי, הוֹאִיל וְנִתְקַלַּלְתִּי יִתְקַלֵּל חֲבֵרִי עִמִּי. אָמַר רַבִּי תַּנְחוּמָא אִם עָשִׂיתָ כֵּן דַּע לְמִי אַתָּה מְבַזֶּה בִּדְמוּת אֱלֹהִים עָשָׂה אוֹתוֹ.

Ben ‘Azzai said: “'This is the book of the descendants of Adam' is a great principle of the Torah.” R. Akiva said: "'Love your neighbor as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18) is a great principle, so that you must not say, "Since I have been put to shame, let my neighbor be put to shame, since I have been cursed, let my neighbor be cursed." R. Tanhuma said: "If you do so, know whom you put to shame, for 'In the image of God did God make him'" (Genesis 5:1).

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does this text imply about the way we are naturally inclined to treat others?

2. What are some ways we can incorporate the lessons of this text into how we treat others, both individually and as a community?

כָּל הַיָּמִים שֶׁאָדָם חָבֵר לֹא אִכְפַּת לוֹ בַּצִּבּוּר וְאֵינוֹ נֶעֱנַשׁ עָלָיו, נִתְמַנָּה אָדָם בָּרֹאשׁ וְנָטַל טַלִּית, לֹא יֹאמַר לְטוֹבָתִי אֲנִי נִזְקָק, לֹא אִכְפַּת לִי בַּצִּבּוּר, אֶלָּא כָּל טֹרַח הַצִּבּוּר עָלָיו, אִם רָאָה אָדָם מַעֲבִיר בִּיָּיא עַל חֲבֵרוֹ, אוֹ עוֹבֵר עֲבֵרָה, וְלֹא מְמַחֶה בְּיָדוֹ הוּא נֶעֱנַשׁ עָלָיו. וְרוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ צוֹוַחַת: בְּנִי אִם עָרַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ, אַתָּה עָרֵב עָלָיו, (משלי ו, א): תָּקַעְתָּ לַזָּר כַּפֶּיךָ, אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אַתָּה הִכְנַסְתָּ עַצְמְךָ לַזִּירָה, וּמִי שֶׁהוּא מַכְנִיס עַצְמוֹ לַזִּירָה אוֹ נִצּוֹחַ אוֹ נוֹצֵחַ, אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֲנִי וְאַתָּה עוֹמְדִים בַּזִּירָה אוֹ נִצַּחְתָּ אוֹ נִצַּחְתִּי.

As long as one is but an ordinary scholar, he has no concern with the congregation and is not punished [for its lapses], but as soon as he is appointed head and dons the cloak [of leadership], he must no longer say: ‘I live for my own benefit, I care not about the congregation,’ but the whole burden of the community is on his shoulders. If he sees a man causing suffering to another, or transgressing, and does not prevent him, then he is held punishable. The Holy Spirit then exclaims, ‘My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor’- you are responsible for him, because ‘you have shaken hands on behalf of a stranger’” (Proverbs 6:1). The Holy Blessed One says to him: “‘You [by assuming office] have placed yourself in the arena’, and he who places himself in the arena stands either to fail or win. We two stand in the arena; either you prevail or I.” [Soncino translation]

וכבר היה רבי טרפון וזקנים מסובין בעלית בית נתזה בלוד נשאלה שאילה זו בפניהם תלמוד גדול או מעשה גדול נענה רבי טרפון ואמר מעשה גדול נענה ר"ע ואמר תלמוד גדול נענו כולם ואמרו תלמוד גדול שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה

Rabbi Tarfon and some elders were reclining in an upper chamber in the house of Nitza in Lod when this question came up: Which is greater, study or action? Rabbi Tarfon spoke up and said: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva spoke up and said: Study is greater. The others then spoke up and said: Study is greater because it leads to action. [Soncino translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How might you define the word "action" in this context?

2.Do you think study or action is more important? Why?

3. How does this text relate to Jewish social justice?

תנו רבנן לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז מעשה שבא רבי אלעזר (בן ר') שמעון ממגדל גדור מבית רבו והיה רכוב על החמור ומטייל על שפת נהר ושמח שמחה גדולה והיתה דעתו גסה עליו מפני שלמד תורה הרבה

Our Rabbis have taught: A man should always be gentle as the reed and never unyielding as the cedar. Once R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon was coming from Migdal Gedor, from the house of his teacher, and he was riding leisurely on his donkey by the riverside and was feeling happy and elated because he had studied much Torah.

נזדמן לו אדם אחד שהיה מכוער ביותר אמר לו שלום עליך רבי ולא החזיר לו אמר לו ריקה כמה מכוער אותו האיש שמא כל בני עירך מכוערין כמותך אמר לו איני יודע אלא לך ואמור לאומן שעשאני כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית כיון שידע בעצמו שחטא ירד מן החמור ונשתטח לפניו ואמר לו נעניתי לך מחול לי אמר לו איני מוחל לך עד שתלך לאומן שעשאני ואמור לו כמה מכוער כלי זה שעשית

היה מטייל אחריו עד שהגיע לעירו יצאו בני עירו לקראתו והיו אומרים לו שלום עליך רבי רבי מורי מורי אמר להם למי אתם קורין רבי רבי אמרו לו לזה שמטייל אחריך אמר להם אם זה רבי אל ירבו כמותו בישראל אמרו לו מפני מה אמר להם כך וכך עשה לי אמרו לו אעפ"כ מחול לו שאדם גדול בתורה הוא

אמר להם בשבילכם הריני מוחל לו ובלבד שלא יהא רגיל לעשות כן מיד נכנס רבי אלעזר בן רבי שמעון ודרש לעולם יהא אדם רך כקנה ואל יהא קשה כארז ולפיכך זכה קנה ליטול הימנה קולמוס לכתוב בו ספר תורה תפילין ומזוזות:

There chanced to meet him an exceedingly ugly man who greeted him, ‘Peace be upon you, Sir’. He, however, did not return his salutation but instead said to him, ‘Reika (Worthless!), how ugly you are. Are all your fellow citizens as ugly as you are?’ The man replied: ‘I do not know, but go and tell the craftsman who made me, "How Ugly is the vessel which you have made".’ When R. Eleazar realized that he had done wrong he dismounted from the donkey and prostrated himself before the man and said to him, ‘I submit myself to you, forgive me’. The man replied: ‘I will not forgive you until you go to the craftsman who made me and say to him,"How ugly is the vessel which you have made".’ He [R. Eleazar] walked behind him until he reached his native city. When his fellow citizens came out to meet him greeting him with the words, ‘Peace be upon you O Teacher, O Master,’ the man asked them, ‘Whom are you addressing thus’? They replied, ‘The man who is walking behind you.’ Thereupon he exclaimed: ‘If this man is a teacher, may there not be any more like him in Israel’! The people then asked him: ‘Why’? He replied: ‘Such and such a thing has he done to me. They said to him: ‘Nevertheless, forgive him, for he is a man greatly learned in the Torah.’ The man replied: ‘For your sakes I will forgive him, but only on the condition that he does not act in the same manner in the future.’ Soon after this R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon entered [the Beit Hamidrash] and expounded thus, A man should always be gentle as the reed and let him never be unyielding as the cedar. And for this reason the reed merited that of it should be made a pen for the writing of the Law, Tefillin and Mezuzot. [Soncino translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In what way did R. Eleazar's status as a scholar lead him to treat the ugly man so poorly?

2. What does it mean to be flexible like the reed rather than rigid like the cedar?

3. In what ways do we all forget that every human being was created in the image of God? How can we improve on our track record here?

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Telegram to President John F. Kennedy, June 16, 1963

Original
I look forward to privilege of being present at meeting tomorrow at 4 p.m. Likelihood exists that Negro problem will be like the weather. Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. Please demand of religious leaders’ personal involvement not just solemn declaration. We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Churches and synagogues have failed. They must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice. Let religious leaders donate one month’s salary toward fund for Negro housing and education. I propose that you Mr. President declare state of moral emergency. A marshal plan for aid to Negroes is becoming a necessity. The hour calls for high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to have high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity? Do you know any leaders who do?
2. Are there issues as pressing to you as this issue was to Heschel? What action is taking place to bring about change? What actions will you take?