Saturday, 14 January 2012

Who will be the next Chief Rabbi?

Last Sunday my wife and I went to see IRON LADY, the film about Margaret Thatcher. We went together with a Kenton contingent to Borehamwood. We thought to go there because there would be nobody else we knew, and we could go incognito. However, when we arrived, just about everybody in the cinema was Jewish, many whom we knew.
So what did I think of the film?
I question the morality of showing a film and depicting somebody in the throes of dementia whilst still alive. It would have been more correct to have shown this movie after her demise.
However, Meryl Streep plays the part brilliantly.
Everybody has different opinions of Maggie; my dad Z’L couldn’t stand her. He had a good reason; he was a socialist through and through. But there was more than that; he didn’t like how she had to commandeer everything herself. When it came to a photo shoot, she had to be the one to place everybody in the right position, as if it could not be done without her being there.
But many people will remember her for standing up for what she thought was right. I think particularly of her famous statement,
“This lady’s not for turning.”
I don’t know how far you can take that. She stood up on issues like the Falklands War, the miners strike, the Euro and the infamous poll tax. But sometimes she could be wrong, and I think a leader has to face up to and admit that fact. That was her downfall, in the end she became autocratic and overbearing and unable to lead properly having lost the support from her inner circle.

This week’s Sedra speaks about the life and times of our greatest leader; Moses.
We read in the Torah:  “There will never arise in Israel a prophet of the stature of Moses”.
He is known as Moshe Rabbeinu- Moses our Rabbi, our teacher par excellence.
Moses would be the one to take the Israelites out of Egypt, to receive the Torah at Sinai. He would lead the Israelites through the Wilderness for forty years. Moses fought against the Amalekites, Sichon and Og and defeated them, and he stopped short of leading them into Israel.
He was the greatest leader who ever lived.

Anglo Jewry is in the throes of choosing a leader, a Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth.
Who will it be?
Here’s a few of the front line names for the position:
The acerbic Rabbi Schochet from Mill Hill and Jewish News’ Ask the Rabbi fame.
The highly creative Rabbi Belovski from Golders Green United.
The very wise Rabbi Mirvis from Finchley United.
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein from South Africa who inspired all the Rabbis at the recent conference of the Chief Rabbi.
Or maybe we should go for Shmuli Boteach, the intergalactic Rabbi or Chief Rabbi Yoni Metzger from Israel who seems to want the job?

So what ingredients do you need to have to be a leader? What qualities do you need to be Chief Rabbi?

Look at the sedra and the formative years of Moses to see the aspects of leadership for which we should be looking.

·        Look at his birth. “A man from the house of Levy went and took a daughter of Levy.” We know from later on that the parents of Moses were Amram and Yocheved, so why the cover up at this stage? Why just tell us that his parents were from the Tribe of Levy? The message is that it doesn’t go according to yichus (pedigree). When looking for a leader it doesn’t matter from whence you come. Another aspect is that when we’re looking for a leader in Israel he has to be someone born of flesh and blood- none of the Immaculate Conception nonsense. Moses had a mother and father.
·        “And the woman became pregnant and she gave birth to a son, and she saw him for he was good, and she hid him for three months.” What is meant by the words, “for he was good” every Jewish mother looks at her child as good? One interpretation brought from Rashi is that he was born in a state of perfection. He was already circumcised. Another explanation is that this goodness is connected to the very first time “it was good” was used in the Torah, at the creation of light. When Moses was born, the whole house was full of light. It was obvious that here was a special and unique person who would eventually become a leader in Israel.
·        “And it was in those days that Moses grew and he went out to his brothers and saw their travails.” He was a member of Pharaoh’s household and had reached a status of royalty, yet he wasn’t too big a person to go out to his brothers and see their afflictions. A true leader has to relate and empathize with the troubles of his fellow Jews.
·        “And he saw an Egyptian man smiting a Hebrew man from his brothers. And he turned this way and that way and he saw there was no man and he smote the Egyptian man and he hid him in the sand.” What is meant by these words; he saw there was no man. Three interpretations: First, the simple explanation, he saw there was nobody around who would witness what was about to happen. Second, he saw in the future that nobody of any goodness or substance would come from this Egyptian. Third, he saw there was no man means; he saw nobody man enough to do something about an injustice which was perpetrated against one of his people. What would you do- just stand around or are you man enough to be the man? True leadership means standing up in the pursuit of justice. Moses had the courage and the fearlessness to do something when everybody around him did nothing. Shortly after as well, he stood up for the injustices taking place against the daughters of Jethro at the well. Later on in life, Moses was to exhort the people: “justice, justice shall you pursue!”
·        “And he led the flock into the wilderness, and he came to the Mountain of G-d at Choreb.” The Medrash rabbah notes that the incident of the Burning Bush occurred after the leading of the flock in the wilderness. The story is related that Moses ran after a lamb that had strayed. He followed it and saw that the lamb just needed some water to drink and with kindness, after allowing the lamb to drink, he carried him back to the flock. It was that caring nature of a shepherd with his flock that merited Moses to lead the Children of Israel.
·        When G-d revealed himself to Moses at the Burning Bush, Moses says: “who am I that I should go to Pharaoh to take out the Children of Israel from his land?” Moses, despite the fact that he was the leader par excellence of the Jewish people, nevertheless he knew his own limitations. He knew that ultimately everything comes from G-d and all his talents of leadership were G-d given. This was something that he took with him throughout his life. Indeed when his sister Miriam criticised him for marrying a Cushite woman, he held his peace and said nothing.  The Torah says: “Moses was the most humble of men who lived on the earth.” If you are humble you can also admit to your own limitations and recognise ones own faults.
·        Finally, Moses was the one who stood up and challenged G-d in face of the suffering of his brethren. At the conclusion of the Sedra Moses  asks Hashem; “Why have you dealt so badly with this people? Why have you not delivered your people?” A true leader will pray and act as an intercessor on behalf of the Jewish people.
So again, in no particular order here are the qualities for which we need to be looking in the search for a leader of the Jewish people:
1.     Somebody unique and special who lifts the people around him.
2.     He has empathy. He sees the travails of his fellow Jews and is prepared to do something about it.
3.     Pursuit of justice. He has to be fearless and courageous, to speak out on issues that matter.
4.     Caring for every single one of his flock. Like a true shepherd.
5.     Humility. Doesn’t let the position go to his head, at the same time he has the maturity to accept constructive criticism and realises that he is only human.
6.     Standing up on behalf of his people Israel.

Do you have what it takes?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good points about leadership. Perhaps you should throw yourself into the chief rabbi ring?

  3. Ha Ha- you obviously don't know me : )