In the wake of the general election, as we watch the election of a new Liberal Democrat and a new Labour leader, it is good to contemplate the nature of leadership. What is the purpose of a leader?
This week, being the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, has seen much made of the two leaders of the armies in that final, deciding, battle of the Napoleonic wars. The press is full of profiles of Napoleon, That epic yet flawed figure, embodying both the revolution and a vulgar selfishness in the same individual. The Duke of Wellington does not come out of this very well either, particularly from our own communal standpoint: he opposed the full emancipation of the Jewish people, keeping us out of Parliament.
The problem which every organisation has is perhaps amplified by the nature of the nation state. By creating a single leadership position, you vest the fate of the organisation in the hands of one individual. This is a very risky proposition, particularly since one can never be entirely sure how suited that individual is to the particular confidence you place in them.
Most individuals try to do the very best for the organisation. However, divorcing one's own particular interests from what one is doing for a company, a charity, or even a state, is very difficult. Unfortunately, sometimes when the person comes into such a position, this releases undesirable character traits. Because of the perceived importance of their own position, they feel that they are way more capable than they in fact are. This leads to a false impression of an importance, and can lead to disaster for the organisation of which they are in charge.
This week's Torah portion, Korach, is a very good example of two diametrically opposed approaches to leadership. Korach himself, a demagogue, aims to secure a power for himself, and his cronies. He pretends to be interested in the whole People, yet he does not propose any improvement of the situation, but merely a change of power, so that he can concentrate it into his own hands.
By contrast, Moses is a truly modest individual. He clearly does not grudge anyone the opportunity to share power with him. Yet he is aware of his own superior abilities, and constantly acts in the best interests of the people, regardless of how this may appear, or how it might affect him and his family.
This is what the rabbis refer to in Pirkei Avot, as a dispute which is for the sake of heaven. An argument for the sake of heaven involves making decisions which are for the benefit of the people, not for any individual. Korach, who merely wished to change the power structure, advanced an argument which was not for the sake of heaven.
Maybe always be blessed with leaders who act for the sake of heaven.
We wish Ari, Orli and Calaniet Moyal and all their family long life on the death of Avril on Thursday night.
Shiv'a will be held at the family home. Please contact Rabbi Zvi or Rebbetzen Shira for details.
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Rabbi Zvi Solomons
The only Orthodox Rabbi in Berkshire