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Lifestyle/Community

Two chief rabbis put spotlight on aspects of leadership

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MICHAEL BELLING

Lau said everyone was a leader and every leader had to remember two things, namely to work with love and to show a personal example.

Working with love was a lesson we learned from Abraham, he added. Abraham was a peacemaker; he healed disputes by telling the one party that the other wanted to make peace and then repeated the exercise with the other party, with great success.

He managed to use this tactic successfully for a number of reasons: He believed all Jews wished to live together in peace and harmony. He also had a heart full of love for everyone and the people concerned could not say no to him – they wanted to see him happy as well, because they knew he had their welfare at heart.

This was the first aspect of leadership, Lau said, making it clear that it required considering the other person, who could sense that you had his interests at heart.

This could be summed up as “doing this my way is not for me, it’s for you”.

Showing a personal example was illustrated by Joseph, when interpreting the dream of Pharaoh about the seven years of plenty to be followed by the seven lean years. The people had to store food during the years of plenty.

Pharaoh had to set an example in doing so for the people to follow, otherwise the people would do as they saw fit.

Rabbi Goldstein said that while an entire industry had been built on the literature of leadership, there were no books on leadership in Jewish holy literature, although Torah wisdom contained much rich material about leadership.

He asked why this was so. One answer was that Judaism was uncomfortable about creating a literature of leadership, about the concept of leadership if it also created followers.

Leaders and followers created a hierarchy, but in Judaism it was fundamental that each person had direct access to Hashem, without hierarchies or intermediaries.

Hierarchies disempowered and disenfranchised people, causing them not to take responsibility, which was then left to the leaders. If someone else took responsibility, it freed others from doing so. But in Judaism, everyone had responsibility.

Resolving this difficulty required a paradigm shift.

In Western society, leadership was top down; in African societies it was bottom up, achieving consensus that way.

The Torah paradigm was different – inside out. All were called upon to be leaders, starting with each person, as everyone was created in the image of G-d.

All leadership started with self-mastery. Only then could we move out to family, the neighbourhood and beyond, creating expanding circles of influence from the inside out.

“It is our life’s calling to expand our circle of influence,” Goldstein said. 

“The difference between people who occupy positions of leadership and others is only the circle of influence. Every one of us is influencing the people around us.

“If we all became leaders together, we can create a better world.”

 

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