Challenges of Leadership: A Torah Perspective from Vayikra to the Purim Story

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

The Gemara (Berachot 34b) states: “מקום שבעלי תשובה עומדין צדיקים גמורים אינם עומדין, In a place where penitents stand, wholly righteous people cannot stand.” The Gemara emphasizes to us that even someone who is not perfect, and overcame challenging situations, can reach an exalted status even greater than that of great righteous people who did not withstand tests.

Also in Parshat Vayikra (4:22) we encounter the topic of a leader who sins: 

“אשר נשיא יחטא, When a leader sins…”

The choice of the word “אשר, Asher” and not “אם, if” the leader sins or “כי, because” the leader sins needs clarification. Rashi interprets the word “אשר, Asher” as meaning praise:

אשר נשיא יחטא – (תורת כוהנים, הוריות פרק רבן גמליאל) לשון אשרי. אשרי הדור שהנשיא שלו נותן לב להביא כפרה על שגגתו קל וחומר שמתחרט על זדונותיו. (רש”י על ויקרא ד׳:כ״ב:א׳)

“When a leader sins” – Praiseworthy is the generation whose leader pays attention to bring atonement for his inadvertent sin, all the more so that he regrets his intentional sins (Sifra).

That is, according to Rashi, there is no shame when the leader sins and repents, and his generation appreciates and rejoices that he acts to atone for his mistakes.

The Seforno interprets the word “אשר, Asher” as meaning “when” and he writes:

ועל עון הנשיא אמר אשר נשיא יחטא. כי אמנם זה דבר מצוי שיחטא, כאמרו וישמן ישורון ויבעט ואמר בו ואשם שמעצמו יכיר עונו. (ספורנו)

“And regarding the sin of the leader it is said ‘When a leader sins’, for indeed this is a common thing that he will sin, as it is stated ‘And Jeshurun grew fat and kicked’ and it is said of him ‘he will recognize his sin on his own.'”

The Seforno explains that the use of the word “when” hints at the certainty that leaders will err in various sins.  

If so, that it is inevitable that leaders will err in various sins, it would seemingly be preferable not to be in a public position and leadership due to the spiritual risks involved?

The Gemara (Bava Batra 17a) lists four individuals who died without having sinned:

בנימין בן יעקב, ועמרם אבי משה, וישי אבי דוד, וכלאב בן דוד

“Binyamin son of Yaakov , Amram father of Moshe, Yishai father of David, and Caleb son of David.”

תנו רבנן: ארבעה מתו בעטיו (בעצתו, בסיבתו) של נחש הקדמוני, שנגזרה מיתה על בני האדם כולם, ולא מפני חטאיהם. ואלו הן: בנימין בן יעקב, ועמרם אבי משה, וישי אבי דוד, וכלאב בן דוד.

“The Rabbis taught: Four died through the counsel (scheme, fault) of the primordial serpent, for death was decreed upon all humans, and not on account of their sins. And they are: Binyamin son of Yaakov , Amram father of Moshe, Yishai father of David, and Caleb son of David.”

All the four people mentioned who died not on account of any personal sin are well-known people, but nevertheless each one of them is mentioned together with their more famous relative – such as Binyamin the son of Yaakov , Amram the father of Moshe, Yishai the father of David, and Caleb the son of David. The mention of their famous relatives hints that those relatives like Yaakov , Moshe and David reached even loftier spiritual heights than them, but not because their famous relatives were as they were completely free of sin, but rather by virtue of their roles as leaders and their status in which they had to overcome challenges and difficulties, and even made mistakes but repented and merited offspring of such a high spiritual level.

The message is clear – do not hesitate to take on leadership roles, do not fear mistakes, just as on Purim Mordechai said to Esther “ומי יודע אם-לעת כזאת הגעת למלכות, Who knows if it was for a time such as this that you attained royalty”, he encouraged her to enter into leadership of the people as a brave and redeeming hero, for Hashem gives a person a purpose and influence in challenging times.  

The Torah and the Megillas Esther praise such leaders, who take on influential roles despite the inherent risks and who overcome sin and challenges in order to attain greatness for the benefit of the people, even if the path is difficult.

In summary, do not be deterred by the failures inherent in leadership roles. The call is to go forth into leadership, for without a willingness to take risks and confront the challenges of leadership, it is not possible to achieve significant accomplishments.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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