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What Does It Take To Be A Leader?

Friday, 10 January, 2020 - 1:36 pm

In this week’s Torah reading, Vayechi, we read about Jacobs last moments of life. He gathers all his children, the 12 tribes, around his bed and blesses each of them, foretelling what would happen to them and their progeny in the future. He designates each child’s destiny. Who will be the leader, the scholar, the spiritual leader, the entrepreneur, the warrior and much more. The scene must have been so beautiful and majestic. After a very long tumultuous life, Jacob finally can enjoy some real Nachas. On his death bed he sees that all his children and grandchildren are following in his footsteps and living the life he educated and taught them to live. Most of us can only dream of such a result. However, when you analyze his words to them you see that not all is as smooth as we would expect. Let me site a couple of examples.

Rueben, the first born, seems to have been shorthanded. As a first born you would expect Jacob to confer upon him the position of leadership. From him should have come the kings of Israel. Yet, not only is the future monarchy of Israel not from his line, he is not given any leadership positions at all. He is not the future spiritual leader, nor is he the future scholar. Instead, the kings all come from Judah, the priests come from Levi, the scholars from Isachar and so on. In fact, in our history, Rueben and his offspring have hardly made any mark and have not risen to anything of note at all. Why?
 
Rueben was a very holy and righteous person. When the brothers plotted to kill Joseph it was Rueben who begged them not to shed Joseph’s blood themselves, instead, he convinced them to throw him into a nearby pit to die on his own. Rueben’s intent, of course, was to come later and rescue him. Unfortunately for Joseph, Rueben then went to pray and engage in spiritual perfection and repentance for a past sin he had committed thinking he would return to the pit when his brothers were no longer there. In the interim a caravan of Arabs passed by and Judah, feeling guilty seeing his brother Joseph linger in a pit to die, reasoned with his brothers that it would be better to sell Joseph as a slave to the caravan and not be guilty of his death. This they did and as they say, the rest is history.
 
In the final analysis, Rueben, the righteous holy man, missed the boat. He was missing in action when he was most needed. He was praying and being all spiritual when a Jewish boy was lingering in a pit. He had great intentions, but as they say; the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. In that sense Rueben failed as a leader. When he needed to act as the first born and the leader of the group he was not present. Judah, on the other hand, saved his brother from certain death. He might not have had the best of intentions, but he showed leadership at that pivotal moment. This one incident shaped the future for not only themselves but for generations to come. Rueben never became a leader in the Jewish story, whereas Judah and his progeny became the kings and leaders of Israel until the end of time.
 
It seems unfair but life is not always fair. Life is short and there are moments in our lives when we are called upon to take a stand, to be a leader, not to delay, not to be silent even if it means going out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, it is those moments and opportunities that define our lives. All the rest might turn out to be incidental or less important. When there is a child in the ‘pit’ of addiction, in the ‘pit’ of apathy, in the ‘pit’ of spiritual death, in the pit of…. pick your choice, you mustn’t walk away. Do something, speak up, take a stand, be a leader and do not rely on someone else or even on a later opportunity. That later opportunity might never come. Before you know it that child might be ‘sold’ into ‘slavery’ of his or her own abyss. One more point; No one cares about your intentions; you will have ample time to work on the nobility of your intentions. When a child is 
in a pit you act, with or without the proper intentions. That’s leadership. 

Shabbat Shalom

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