Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Leadership Traits

Last week, I was watching an interview with Supreme Court Justice Tal (retired.) He is a lovely frum man with the kind eyes of a grandfather. I remember how he used to come and daven in Gush every Yom Kippur. Having had a son in the Yeshiva who was killed in the Yom Kippur War, he retained the connection with the Yeshiva many years afterwards. (Judge Tal is also famous for having headed the committee to create a legal resolution for the draft of Haredim to the army or their inclusion in the workforce.)

The interviewer asked him, "What is the prime trait that must animate a judge?"

I was watching, thinking that he might point to the quality of integrity, or honesty, or intelligence or independent-mindedness. He responded that when he was first appointed as a district court judge and still finding his way, he had a meeting with a senior British (Jewish) Justice. He asked him the same question. The elderly Justice answered: "Compassion." "And that," said Judge Tal, "that has guided me as my prime trait to this day." He proceded to say that a judge must know the law, but must also apply it in such a way that it solves a problem. I was quite surprised that he saw compassion of all things, looking at the person's distress, as a prime trait of a Judge.

I mention this in connection with the parshat Hashavua. In this week's parsha , God picks a new leader:

And the Lord answered Moses, 'Take Yehoshua son of Nun, a man who has spirit (ruach) within him" (27:16)

The Hebrew word "ruach" - usually translated as "spirit" or simply "wind" - is used in another context in this passage. Because earlier, when Moses tells God that He must replace Moses with a new leader, he addresses God by an unusual phrase. Moses addressed the Almighty as: "The Lord of spirit of all flesh". With this simple word connection, we can explain what is the "spirit" that animates Joshua making him leadership material:

"Moses said before God: 'You know full well the minds of every one of your children and you know that no person is the same as another. When I depart from them, I request that you appoint a person who will tolerate every one of them in their individual uniqueness.'" (Midrash Tanchuma)

The Midrash explains God's title as the source "of the spirit of all flesh" as meaning that He knows the inner workings of all humans. God having created us understands the complexity of human psychology, the diversity in temperament, personality and ideology that are the hallmarks of our human nature, our genius, and our failings. According to the Midrash, Moses addresses God with this particular title because he feels that the next leader will need this God-like trait. National leadership needs an individual who, like God, understands people. A leader must be able to relate to all the diversity that constitutes humanity, with all their peculiarities and idiosyncrasies: extreme and moderate, honest and fraudulent, aggressive and calm, tolerant and intolerant. And indeed, Joshua is the person. He is a man with this "spirit" within him.


But sometimes a leader needs to express a new spirit, to forge a new path. Not to empathise but to be an independent thinker, a resolute leader. The Netziv (Rabbi Naftal Tzvi Berlin - Ha'Emek Davar commentary) suggests this approach (16:22):

"Joshua, A Man Of Spirit: HIS spirit. i.e. He is independently minded and not swayed or diverted by self-centred desires or other pressures."

So most people have a "spirit" - a consciousness - which is in some way controlled by "flesh" - self-indulgent desires. Joshua, on the other hand has a self-sufficient "spirit". He is a principled, resolute individual. He is not be swayed by the crowds.

So we have two approaches here. The Midrash sees Joshua's "spirit" as his empathy, his tolerance, his "people touch", his sensitivity. The Netziv sees Joshua's strength as his resolute independence of mind (a trait which he demonstrated clearly in the "Spies" episode.) It is this ability to stand firm irrespective of the buffeting pressures of national leadership that singles out Joshua for the leadership position.

Which is the preferable trait for a national leader? Can the two characteristics co-exist?

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