Outsider Leadership

Thursday, 2 February, 2017 - 3:57 pm

We are instructed (as per Rabbi Schenur Zalman of Liadi) to live with the times, namely the weekly Torah potion. Furthermore, as the Shelah points out, we can find parallels between the weekly parasha and the time of the year during which it is read.

These past few Torah portions have introduced us to Moses, the great Jewish leader who took us out of Egypt, split the sea, received the Torah, performed the miracles and led our people through the desert for 40 years. It is safe to say that Moshe helped shape the identity of the Jewish people and the Jewish religion through his leadership.

By Divine Providence we read these Torah portions around the month of Shevat. The 10th of Shevat is the Yahrtzeit of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe and the day that our Rebbe assumed the leadership of Chabad.

One of the most fascinating things about Moshe’s childhood was that he was raised apart from his people, as an adopted price in the royal palace of Egypt. While there he was certainly afforded all of the privileges of royalty and most definitely did not personally experience the hardships of his people’s enslavement. This can cause us to wonder if he would be the ideal choice for a leader, being that he may lack a sense of identification with the narrative of his nation.

The Ibn Ezra (12th century Jewish sage and commentator) suggests that, “Perhaps Gā€‘d caused Moses to grow up in the home of royalty, so that his soul would be accustomed to a higher sense of learning and behavior, and he would not feel lowly and accustomed to a house of slavery.” He then cites several instances in Moshe’s life where he acted nobly in saving people from distress. This implies that Moshe needed to be able to reach beyond the “slave mentality” in order to come up with the courage and fortitude necessary to liberate them.

Ibn Ezra continues, “Had he grown up among his brethren, and they would know him from his childhood days, they wouldn’t have the same sense of respect, because he would be regarded as one of them.” It’s is hard to seamlessly transition from being “one the boys” to being the boss. When people remind him that, “I was at your bris” or “I babysat you and man were you a wild kid” that makes it tough to command the respect required for successful leadership.

This in no way suggests that every leader who comes up through the ranks or from a familiar environment is unqualified. Rather, when it comes to a major revolutionary shift, the likes of which Moshe brought to the Jewish nation and the world, something a little different could be useful.

I would like to hesitantly suggest a parallel between some of these leadership aspects of Moshe and similar qualities in the Rebbe. The previous Rebbe was the sixth generation of leadership in Chabad. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather and so forth were all Rebbes. He grew up in Lubavitch and was active and involved in his father’s activities from a young age, especially the special Yeshiva that the fifth Rebbe founded in the town of Lubavitch, Tomchei Temimim.

Upon his passing, some questioned his son-in-law’s qualifications to be a Rebbe of Chabad. While the Rebbe was a distant cousin, and his father was a faithful Chosid, yet he did not grow up in Lubavitch, nor did he attend the Yeshiva there. He really was an outsider vis-a-vis the “Lubavitch scene.” Furthermore the Rebbe had spent time in university, very much an anomaly, even an anathema in Chassidic circles. Yet we find that the Rebbe propelled Chabad’s reach and influence truly transforming the Jewish world. Perhaps some out-of-the-box perspective contributed to that success.

Either way, as we read these Torah portions and mark this special anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership it behooves us to take to heart the example of these great leaders and be inspired to implement their direction into our own lives.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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