Leadership

Leadership in brief: selfless empowerment of others. The essence of good leadership is dedication to the ethic of service. The leader is there to serve, not to be served. The priesthood is described in the Bible as a commitment to service. The Talmud (Chagiga 5b) says that God cries everyday over leaders who lord it over others. Such self-serving leaders who bully the community, Maimonides rules, have no portion in afterlife (Laws of Repentence 3:6).

Notice how Biblical Joseph behaved when he was called upon by Pharaoh to interpret his famous dreams (Genesis 41:25). Here was someone who for years had been languishing in prison, and was finally face-to-face with the one person who could end his misery. Yet, Joseph thought not a moment about his own plight; instead he put his mind to saving the country from starvation (Genesis 41:33). Someone worthy of leadership has what existentialist philosophers call a 'them-focus'. True leaders don't seek to generate devoted followers but confident leaders. When some leaders appointed by Moses began 'to prophesy in the camp', Joshua urged Moses to take decisive action. Instead, Moses uttered the following wonderful words (Numbers 11: 29): "If only all of God's people were prophets." Real leaders inspire leadership in others.

Proper leaders understand the meaning of empathy. They have a broad enough soul, a sufficiently expansive spirit, to feel truly for others. While overturning injustice and promoting a fair society is a task that falls to every person, in Jewish thought special responsibility is accorded to the leaders. They bear a direct responsibility to prevent societal wrongs, and they are held directly to blame for failures. That is why, according to the Talmud (Makkot 11a), the High Priest was blamed for all acts of manslaughter during his reign: "They should have done more to plead for mercy for the people of their generation." The Talmud (Berachot 28a) describes a stinging encounter where the head of the Sanhedrin, Rabban Gamliel, came to seek out Rabbi Joshua in his home to resolve a dispute:

When he [Rabban Gamliel] arrived at his [Rabbi Joshua's] home, he saw that the walls were blackened, whereupon he exclaimed, 'from the walls of your house it would appear that you are a blacksmith'. Said he in response: 'Woe to a generation that has you as a leader, for you know not the suffering of scholars, nor how they earn a living or how they feed themselves."

As biblical commentator Rashi notes (Numbers 31:14), any ill that befalls the populace is put at the door of the leaders. The Talmud (Shabbat 33a; 54b) highlights the special role of the leader to stand up for what is right and failure to lead effectively means that they are considered culpable. In a seminal story in the Talmud (Gittin 55b), a person committed a catastrophic act of revenge against all Jews because he was slighted in the presence of rabbis who failed to intervene: Said the other, "Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against then, to the Government."

However, while leadership involves a multitude of responsibilities, it is exemplified by how they deal with the weak and marginalised. Thus, says the Midrash (Exodus Rabah, 2:2), Moses was chosen as leader when the Almighty witnessed his concern for a stray sheep:

Moses was shepherding his father-in-laws' sheep one day, when one of them bolted. Moses followed the runaway animal until it reached a body of water where it stopped for a drink. Moses compassionately said to the sheep, "If only I had known that you thirsted for water. You must be exhausted from running…" Saying this, he scooped up the animal, placed it on his shoulders, and headed back to his flock. Said God: "If this is how he cares for the sheep of man, he is definitely fit to shepherd mine…"

 
Listening

The following questions illustrate two types of communication. One type is the 'mundane', such as, "Where are the car keys?" or, "When is the delivery expected?" The other we might call 'profound' as in, "Why has performance been low?" or "You seem stressed. What's on your mind?"

The first type of question asks for a simple, factual answer - a clear, direct response is all that is required. The second, however, demands that the respondent think deeply. It also puts more onus on the questioner to try to understand what lies behind what the respondent is saying. Effective communication depends so much on how we listen to the response. Stephen Covey, the 'Communication Skill' expert, put it: "There is no effective communication without listening. Listening is the tool that turns words into communication."

Quite striking is the fact that the most often recited Biblical verse in Judaism, begins: "Listen" (Shema). According to Jewish tradition, when the Shema is recited one covers the eyes to eliminate visual distractions. With sound stimuli, it is even more the case, for one can only truly listen to one thing at a time.

Effective listening, is more than plain hearing. It demands that we clear out distractions from our mind in order to pay attention to the other's words. To properly focus on another person, we need to put aside our own thoughts—whether serious or trivial.

Listening is one of our greatest acts of giving. It has a reciprocal effect because our interactions (mostly in spoken form) then validate our own reality. When our interactions are affirmed we feel more alive; when we feel un-listened to, we may wonder if we really exist. Lending an ear is a special act of kindness that costs us nothing but can be of infinite value. The Talmud (Shabbat 63a) underscores how valuable is the feeling of being heard. It says, "When two scholars studying together listen patiently to each other, God listens to them too."

Empathy can only happen through listening. The ears are the 'door to the heart'. When the Bible (e.g. Exodus 3:7) says God heard our cries in Egypt, it means more than plain hearing: He took notice. To truly listen is to allow another person into your heart. It means making space in your life for another person. When God spoke to Elijah (1 Kings 19) it was through 'a still small voice'. Elijah was being taught that if we want to know we have to cut through the din to the small voice that struggles to get out.

When communicating, are we tempted to actually listen more to ourselves—to our inner dialogue and to plan our responses-rather than hear the other person? We may even find ourselves finishing another's sentence, verbally or at least mentally. To show real interested in someone's expressed thoughts, we must avoid superimposing our own ideas—because in most cases we actually do not know another's experience. Only through listening can we gain the knowledge and understanding of another person. Singer Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970) expressed it well: "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens."

A story is told about a young rabbi – Rabbi Dov Ber of Chabad – who was so immersed in his study that he didn't hear the cries of his child who had fallen out of the cot. The grandfather had to come to the infant's rescue and soothe the child back to sleep, while the father remained oblivious. The next day the young rabbi was admonished: "No lofty thoughts of scholarly pursuits should prevent you from hearing the cries of a child."

A story is told about a young Martin Buber, who was editing a book on mysticism when a visitor disturbed him. Anxious to return to his work, he gave brief responses to the queries and hurried back to his work. Later that day, he learned that the visitor had committed suicide. This event changed his life, and he went on to write about the value of profound communication. We

should realise that we are not listening to words, but to a human being.

 

Loving others

The Bible (Leviticus 19:18) commands us to love others as we do ourselves. This theme is taken up by the famous sage of Roman times, Rabbi Akiva, who declared this commandment as the Great Principle of Judaism. Another legendary Jewish sage, Hillel the Elder, was once approached by a would-be convert. He asked Hillel to teach him all of Torah whilst standing on one leg. He famously replied (Talmud Shabbat 31a): "That which you dislike, do not do to others. – That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary."

Why is the commandment to love others so central? The rabbis explain: Because so many of the other commandments are tied up with this single one. For example, the prohibitions against jealousy, revenge, theft, and violence are based on a concern for the welfare of others. In Jewish law, loving others is not an effort to regulate how we feel about another person, but an effort to control how we behave towards another.

Thus, explains Maimonides, the Biblical command is a practical one. Or put differently, conduct yourself towards others as you would towards someone you love. This meaning is clear enough in the context of another verse in the Bible: "You shall not take revenge nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your fellow as yourself." Behave lovingly. It is what you do that counts most.

This isn't about faking it. We are not told that we have to go around hugging people we dislike or telling people we love them when we don't. Rather, we are being asked to ensure that our behaviour towards people is always that of a loving person.

If we begin to realise that, in a very real sense, they are like ourselves, we can come to love other people even as much as ourselves. Especailly in Western culture, we are focused very much on the things that make each of us a discrete individual. This is because, as physical beings, we tend to be heavily influenced by our senses and our senses give a powerful impression of our individualism. Your body is quite separate from mine. When your toe hurts, mine doesn't. You have separate possessions from me. Physically, we can come to think that we are disconnected from one another.

However, this is a deception. In reality we are all intertwined. We are as one body, sharing the same planet and part of a single humanity. We are also highly inter-linked, so thatthe actions of one person have implications for another. Spiritually, we are connected to the same reality. If we cease being superficial we can see that there is far more that unites us than divides us.

When we connect with people on a deeper level, we can come to truly share in their sorrow and to genuinely rejoice in their happiness. When we view humanity in this interconnected way, it comes as natural to fulfil the rabbinic instruction, "may the honour and possessions of your fellow be as precious as your own." Like a right hand striking its left, when we hurt another person it is really ourselves that we are hurting. When we help another, it is really ourselves we are helping.