Sunday, December 21, 2014 Kislev 29, 5775

Definiti​on of a Leader

April 2, 2009
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When we sit down to our seders next week, this year, as always, the central character of the Exodus story will be missing from the Haggadah.

For many commentators, Moses' absence from the retelling of our journey from slavery to freedom only enhances his stature as one of the great Jewish leaders of all time.

There are various explanations for why he is omitted. One suggests that it was because Moses, in telling the story to his own children at the first seder, excluded himself because he was so humble. Another posits that the authors of the Haggadah wanted to ensure that God got most of the credit, even if it was Moses who saw most of the action in the liberation from Egypt. Still another suggests that the absence of Moses in word, if not in spirit, helped empower the Israelites -- and by extension, all of us Jews, as we work to free ourselves from more contemporary forms of oppression.

Our challenges as Jews, living free throughout most of the world, have evolved dramatically over the years. But the qualities of leadership ascribed to Moses still pertain.

Humility, empathy, determination and the enabling of others are all traits that define Moses as he moves from privileged son of the palace to shepherd to reluctant prophet and, finally, liberator of our people.

His leadership attributes are so admired that in recent years, he has been co-opted by management gurus, held up as the quintessential leader in books such as David Baron's Moses on Management: 50 Leadership Lessons From the Greatest Manager of All Time and Norman Cohen's Moses and the Journey to Leadership: Timeless Lessons of Effective Management From the Bible and Today's Leaders.

Among the many lessons we ponder over Passover, the lessons about leadership -- now more than ever -- should not be lost. Wherever we turn these days, we see crises.

And times of crises require strong leaders, not only leaders who pursue specific policies and make tough choices, but who also inspire confidence that the paths they choose will guide us out of the wilderness.

We look to President Barack Obama to help lead our nation out of its economic morass. We look to Israel's newly installed prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to lead us on a path that will keep Israel safe and strong.

And in our Jewish community, we look to individuals to provide creative thinking to help us tackle the economic, spiritual and demographic challenges we face. Like Moses, who was called upon not from his position of power but only after he had become an ordinary shepherd, our leaders today must remember that it's not wealth or status that makes for true leadership. It's humility, empathy and the ability to empower others. 

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