This essay is from the book, “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values” published by Urim, or the upcoming books, “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values: Man to Man” or “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values: Man to G-d” to be published in the future.
Before discussing the concepts of Jewish leadership, the first question that must be asked is: what is leadership? There have been many definitions of this term, but the most common is: “A process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” Another definition of this word is: “Organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal.” A leader may or may not have any formal authority, but we all know a leader when we see one. Why is it, then, so difficult to find a true leader today? The crisis of leadership in both the Jewish and non-Jewish world is at an all-time high. Many who we thought were leaders turn out to be self-centered individuals only out for self-gain, both in the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. By examining the Jewish definition of leadership through the sources, and some Jewish examples of true leaders, we may be able to answer some of these important questions, and possibly discover better leaders.
JEWISH LEADERSHIP MODELS OF JEWISH LEADERS IN THE TORAH
Unlike a hero who may carry out one act to earn this “title,” a great leader must act repeatedly to demonstrate some type of heroism or leadership over a period of time. A leader often has an official position over the people he or she is meant to supervise and guide. Otherwise, any community that looks to a certain person for direction and support in times of need, then this person is their leader. What characteristics make a person a Jewish leader, other than being Jewish and a leader? Are there any qualities of leadership that are unique to Judaism or that are stressed more than other qualities in other cultures?
Rather than list those characteristics that depict Jewish leadership or bring numerous sources showing what Jewish leadership is all about, it will be more beneficial to analyze the character traits of some of the role models in the Torah (but not all), and show which characteristics made each a successful Jewish leader. Each of these personalities showed unique leadership qualities, but, as we will see, some qualities are shared by all leaders. In order to highlight the uniqueness of each individual and role model in the Torah, it will be advantageous to present the leaders in pairs in order to compare and contrast the qualities of each.
Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel currently works with Rabbi Berel Wein and the Destiny Foundation as the Director of Education, whose mission is “to bring Jewish history to life in an exciting, entertaining and interactive way.” Rabbi Amsel has also served as a teacher, a school principal, and an adjunct professor. He has also taught over 2000 educators how to teach more effectively. Rabbi Amsel has worked in all areas of formal and informal Jewish education and has developed numerous curricula including a methodology how to teach Jewish Values using mass media. Recently, he founded the STARS Program (Student Torah Alliance for Russian Speakers), where more than 3000 students in 12 Russian speaking countries learn about their Jewish heritage for five hours weekly. Rabbi Amsel previously served as the Educational Director of Hillel in the Former Soviet Union. He lives Jerusalem with his wife and has four children and three grandchildren.