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Who is a Leader?

How does one become a Jewish leader? Is there particular career path that you would recommend following?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In the secular world, leadership is determined by whoever voluntarily runs for office, usually out of a desire for power.

Contrast this to Torah leadership, where there is no term of office, no contracts or promises. He becomes a leader only because the people respect his character and trust his judgment. He doesn't go in search of the honor. They approach him and they ask him to become their leader.

In fact, a Torah leader will resist the honor. When first approached by God at the Burning Bush, Moses protested: "Who am I that I should take the Jews out of Egypt?!" (Exodus 3:11)

A modern-day example is Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. In the introduction to "Igros Moshe," his monumental compendium of responsa, Rabbi Feinstein writes: "I would not have volunteered for the job of leading the Jewish people. But since this is the role that God has selected for me, I have no choice but to accept it."

Maimonides lists the qualifications for Jewish leadership, as derived from Yisro's description in Exodus 18:21: "A Jewish leader must be: a scholar in both Torah and secular wisdom, God-fearing, non-materialistic (as a guard against bribes), a seeker of truth, mitzvah observant (i.e. practices what he preaches), and modest." (see Laws of Sanhedrin 2:7)

In addition, the Talmud suggests that a leader shouldn't accept money from the community he serves – so they don't "own" him. His integrity must not be tainted by salary negotiations or a board of directors.

Wouldn't the world be different today if all leaders were accountable to such standards?

The truth is that people get the leader they deserve. If there is to be a revolution against selfishness and corruption, the change has to come from below.

Maybe it's time to demand integrity of our government leaders. Because if we let it slide, we all slide down with it.

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