What makes somebody a leader? Is it just the person with the biggest muscles or the loudest voice? Do we even need leaders at all? The Torah gives us a fascinating insight into what we should expect from our leaders and what they should expect from us. Moses was the great leader of the Jewish people who had led them out of slavery in Egypt and brought them to boarders of the Land of Israel. But God revealed to Moses at the end of his life that he wouldn't be the people's leader when they would finally enter the land to live there as God's special and spiritual nation. Moses grew very concerned, but not about himself. He knew that without the guidance of a wise and sensitive leader, the Jewish people would be like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Moses begged God to choose a new leader who would be unselfish and sincerely care about and understand the needs of every single person in the nation. We can learn from here the Torah's lesson that we all need leaders to guide us successfully through life, but that a true leader is only someone who is sincerely dedicated to the well being of others.


In our story a group of kids learn about what makes a leader -- and what doesn't.


Mike Aaronson and his friends sure loved to play hoops. All summer long Mike and the boys would be out on the basketball court -- from early morning until the fading rays of the late afternoon sun.

Sometimes they would just practice or shoot the ball around amongst themselves. Then there were those special days when they would join up with another group of kids in the neighborhood and have a real "official" game.

Today was such a day, but as game-time approached, the boys didn't know what to do. Their team captain, Mike, had a dentist's appointment that day and wouldn't be around to lead them and decide who would play which position, who would be the starter, who would play center, etc. like he always did.

The kids were trying to decide amongst themselves what to do, when one loud voice ended the discussion. It was Freddy, one of the new kids in the neighborhood. "Hey, I'm gonna be captain, okay?" declared the stocky redhead. Before anybody had a chance to respond, the boy continued. "I can do a better job than anyone else here. My dad was a college basketball coach, and besides, in case you hadn't noticed, it's my ball."

The boys looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Freddy was in. They started to play the game and soon enough they began to regret their decision. Whereas Mike would always make sure everybody got a fair chance to play, Captain Freddy chose only his best friends to start the game, and he left them in and everyone else out. He also made sure to take almost all of the shots himself. Mike, on the other hand, would always be careful to pass the ball to someone else to shoot when he saw that the other boy had a clearer shot.

Finally, half-time came and the boys sat on the grass to take their break and have a cool drink. Even though they were winning the game, the only person on the team who seemed to be smiling was Freddy.

But just before it was time to play the second half, Mike surprised everybody by showing up. His dentist appointment had been cancelled! All the boys sighed with relief at having their old team leader back. Even Freddy couldn't complain since everyone knew he was just filling in for Mike.

With that, the boys trotted out to the court with Mike in the lead. Mike, as usual, was careful to get everybody into the game. Even Freddy felt good when Mike (who realized that Freddy might be feeling bad about not being captain anymore) told him to start the game playing center, the most coveted position. The boys enjoyed the rest of the game much more and all agreed that Mike was the kind of leader they were happy to follow.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did the boys feel after Freddy took over as team captain?
A. They were upset and sorry they chose him because he saved all the fun for himself and his best friends only.

Q. How did they feel after Mike returned to being captain again?
A. They felt much better since they knew that he would be very fair and give everyone a turn. Mike was a good leader who knew how to look out or everybody.

Ages 6-9

Q. What leadership qualities did Mike have that made him a good team captain?
A. For one thing, Mike was unselfish. Even though as captain he could have chosen to dominate the game himself, he didn't. Also he paid attention to the feelings and needs of all the team members and did his best to make them all feel valuable. A good example of this is when he was sensitive to Freddy's feelings and gave him an important position to play since he wasn't captain anymore. Since the team members trusted Mike they were likely to play to the best of their abilities.

Q. Would you say that a team captain that won all of his games but didn't treat his players well could be considered a successful leader? Why or why not?
A. In sports and in many other activities, coming out ahead or winning is considered to be an important goal. Yet winning alone isn't enough reason to call somebody a success. More important is what method did the leader use to reach his goals. A truly successful leader is able to positively motivate those he leads. Rather than just bullying them, he will figure out how to help each of them do his best. More often than not this method will bring even more "wins" in the long run. But win or lose, the leader who truly cares about those he leads is a success.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. What traits would you say make for a good leader?
A. To be a good and effective leader is quite a challenge. One must be bold enough to take control of a situation yet humble enough to consider the opinions of others. A leader must be sensitive to the needs of each individual yet able to balance these individual needs against what will most benefit the group as a whole. He must be decisive and able to take action, yet be flexible enough to step back and change direction if he sees that he has made a mistake.

Q. Can you think of any ways that we could grow personally when we find ourselves in the role of a follower?
A. Each situation of life provides a growth opportunity if approached correctly. If we must follow someone else's lead, this is a good opportunity to develop humility. We can learn the lesson that every member of a given group, not only the leader, has a valuable part to play. We can also practice the quality of loyalty to support and stand behind a worthy leader even in difficult times.