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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bereishis: A lesson in leadership

Summary

Group members may question the purpose of meetings, if in any case the final decision is going to be made by the leader above their heads. On the sixth day of Creation, G'd said, 'Let Us make man in Our image'. G'd was speaking to the angels. Although the angels had absolutely no part in creating man, G'd wanted to teach a lesson of proper conduct and modesty, how the leader should discuss and obtain permission from the group members before making a decision. G'd leaves open the possibility of making mistakes to allow man to have free choice to choose between right and wrong, and between good and evil. G'd expects leaders throughout the generations to emulate Him and seek the opinions of others. This applies to any person who has power or authority over others, such as doctors. No leader should be established in a public office without the acceptance of the constituents. If someone forces himself to lead the prayer service, one should not answer "Amen" to his prayers. There is an apparent contradiction when G'd commands Joshua to act "against their will" and to "hit them [the Jewish people] on their heads". Before he makes his final decision, the leader must consider all the various opinions of the constituents offering their advice.

Executive decisions

Every community and organization has a group of people that are in charge. Most larger businesses have a board of directors, who meet at regular intervals to make executive decisions concerning policies and directions how to operate the business. Even many families meet from time to time to discuss how to deal with various issues. It is quite common that the leader of the community, the CEO of the business, as well as the head of the family, in the end will decide on their own what to do. This is often to the great frustration of the other members who attended the meetings. They question the purpose of these meetings, if in any case the final decision is going to be made above their heads.

'Let Us make man'

Looking at this week's Torah portion, it appears that the discontented group members have a strong point. On the sixth day of Creation, G'd was ready to create man, the crown of the entire Creation. Everything else had been created, and was in place, to serve man. Our sages discuss an apparent difficulty in the way G'd expressed Himself prior to creating man. It says (Bereishis 1:26-27): "And G'd said, 'Let Us make man in Our image' " And G'd created man in His image, male and female He created them."

Partner angels

The obvious question arises, who were G'd's "partners" that He spoke to and involved in the creation of man? The Targum Yonathan explains that G'd had created the angels on the second day of Creation (see also Rashi Bereishis 1:5). It was these angels that G'd addressed when He said, "let Us make man". The Midrash Rabbah (8:8) points out that when G'd dictated the Torah to Moses, and They came to this verse, Moses said, "Master of the Universe, why do You give an opportunity to the heretics to open their mouths [to claim that there is more than one Divine power involved in creating man]? G'd just answered him: "Write, whoever wants to err will err."

Great modesty

Rashi explains that G'd, in His great modesty, approached the angels in order to appease them. Since man was going to be created with certain similarities to the angels, G'd was concerned that they may be "jealous". He said to them, "In the upper [spiritual] world, there are creations in My image. If I do not create a being in My image in the lower [physical] world, it will cause an imbalance in the Creation." Rashi continues to explain that although the angels had absolutely no part in creation, G'd wanted to teach this lesson of proper conduct and modesty, how a leader should discuss and obtain permission from the group members before making a decision.

Free will

Notwithstanding that this opened up the possibility for heretics to bring misleading "proof" to their belief in more than one deity, G'd obviously decided that the lesson of proper conduct and modesty was more important. Rashi concludes that the answer to the heretic's "proof" is written immediately afterwards, when it says, "And G'd created man in His image." We see that right from the beginning of Creation G'd left open the possibility of making mistakes. Only in this way does man have free choice to choose between right and wrong, and between good and evil. In the same way, everything in the world indicates that there is a Creator, Who created the world with a most intelligent design, and Who is in charge of every detail ever since. Nevertheless, there will always be questions of why did G'd do "this" or how could He allow "that". However, the honest seeker of truth will either find the answers or accept that certain things are beyond human understanding. This is an integral part of G'd's Masterplan for the world. He did not create the world, and He does not guide it, in a crystal clear fashion, leaving no choice but to believe in His sovereign power. For if that had been the case, it would have left no room for rewarding the one who chooses to believe in G'd and follow His instructions.

Second opinions

At the same time, as G'd revealed Himself as the Creator and Master of the universe, He taught us an important lesson how to conduct ourselves. By discussing the creation of man with the angels, who had just been created a few days earlier themselves, G'd taught how He expects leaders throughout the generations to emulate Him and seek the opinions of others. This applies to any person in power or authority. The Talmud (Kidushin 82a) speaks in a very negative way about the best doctors. The Maharsha explains that this refers to doctors who consider themselves better than their colleagues. In their arrogance they do not seek a second opinion and rely solely on their own expertise. On the other hand, we find many great doctors who see themselves as proxies of G'd, and feel humbled and awed by the privilege to help their fellow human beings and restore their health. There is a famous prayer by the Rambam, who himself was a doctor, that still today is recited by many G'd fearing doctors before they treat their patients. Such doctors will no doubt also consult their colleagues rather than make decisions on their own.

Acceptance of the constituents

The Talmud (Berachot 55a) teaches that no leader should be established in a public office without the acceptance of the constituents. The Talmud learns this from the fact that G'd instructed Moses to discuss with the Jewish people the appointment of Bezalel to build the Tabernacle before putting him into office. As it says (Shemos 35:30): "And Moses said to the Children of Israel, 'See. G'd has called upon [and mentioned] the name of Bezalel.'" Explains the Talmud: "G'd said to Moses, 'Do you find that Bezalel is worthy? He answered, 'Master of the Universe, if You find him worthy, for sure he is worthy for me.' G'd continued and said, 'Nevertheless, go and ask the Jewish people if they find Bezalel worthy.' They answered, 'If he is worthy in the eyes of G'd, and you Moses, for sure he is worthy for us.'"

Prayer leader

We clearly see that the Torah does not accept the leadership of dictators or anyone taking office without the acceptance of the populace. We even find that someone may not lead the congregation in prayer unless he is acceptable to the congregation. The Rama therefore rules in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 53:22) that if someone forces himself to lead the prayer service, one should not answer "Amen" to his prayers.

Apparent contradiction

Towards the end of the Torah we seem to find a contradiction to the required conduct of leaders taught at the beginning of the Torah. It says (Devarim 31:7): "And Moses called upon Joshua and said to him, before the eyes of all of Israel, 'Be strong and courageous, for you shall come with this people to the land that G'd swore to their forefathers to give to them.'" Rashi quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 8a) that explains that Moses said to Joshua that he should lead the Jewish people together with the elders of the generation, and that everything should be done according to their opinion and advice. However, says the Talmud, after G'd spoke to Moses he instructed Joshua in a different way. As it says later (ibid 31:14 and 23): "And G'd said to Moses and he [Moses] commanded Joshua, son of Nun, and said, 'Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the children of Israel to the land ...' You shall bring them, even against their will. Everything depends on you. Take a staff [of leadership] and hit them on their heads. There shall be only one leader for the generation and not two."

Consider the constituents' opinions

The obvious question arises, what happened to G'd's instructions of modesty and the requirement that the leader should consult his constituents? The answer may be that the two instructions can go hand in hand without contradicting each other. The responsibility and final decision should always be in the hand of the actual leader. However, before the leader makes his decision, he should consult even people of lesser stature than himself, and seek their advice, to make sure that the final decision is based on well-rounded research. Before he makes his final decision, the leader must consider all the various opinions of the constituents offering their advice. Even a younger, or less experienced constituent may have a valid point that should be included in the final decision. But the leader must be aware of his responsibility; therefore, there can only be one person to make the final decision. With this approach, there is no need for the group members to be frustrated by the fact that after all the meetings the leader seems to make his own decision. If he is a true leader, he will conduct himself in accordance with the instructions of the Torah that teaches leaders to seek the advice of the group before making the final decision.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.


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