When a leader behaves with integrity, the moral schematic of the entire nation is elevated. The ability to publicly admit sin requires tremendous courage. Parashas VaYikra describes the obligation of Jewish national leaders to bring offerings to atone for their wrongdoings: “When a ruler sins… unintentionally… he shall bring his offering…” (Leviticus 4:22-23). Noting that the Hebrew word “asher” in the verse shares roots with the Hebrew word “osher”, gladness, the Talmud notes, “Glad is the generation whose ruler brings an offering for his mistakes.”
A leader with the integrity to bring an offering to atone for his unintentional sins creates an atmosphere in which the common man will certainly avoid at least intentional sins. The ruler’s integrity provides a role model to the nation as a whole.
Rabbi Raphael Baruch Toledano led the Jewish community in Meknes, Morroco in the early nineteen hundreds. When one of his young children required reprimand for some childish but serious misbehavior, Rabbi Toledano called the little boy over, spoke with him quietly, and clarified how poor his behavior had been. The boy hung his head in sadness and shame, appreciating the gravity of his fathers’ words, and received the consequences of his mistake calmly. When the talk came to a close, the boy left his father’s study resolved not to make the same mistake again.
But a little while later, the little boy’s mother standing in an adjacent room heard muffled sobs emanating from the study where her son had recently received admonishment. Entering the study to find out what was going on, the mother was surprised to find her husband, the rabbi, the tzaddik, leaning his head in his hands and crying grievously.
Approaching him gently, the rebbetzin asked her husband what could be the matter. “I am punishing myself for having had to punish our child,” he responded. “If he made a mistake, the failure is mine as his father who is responsible to educate him. If I had guided him properly, his behavior would have been in keeping. If he failed to do so – the failure is mine!”
The rabbi’s quiet cries persisted as he continued to reflect on how he could improve as a father…
Taking responsibility as a leader means admitting your mistakes. Are today’s school teachers crying over the moral failings of their charges? Are today’s national and international leaders shedding tears over the unmet ethical potential of their nations?
Up until very few generations ago, those leading the Jewish People were the Torah scholars and moral luminaries of those times. These were the “stars” inspiring the masses. Despite decrees and persecution, challenges and tragedies, these leaders stood at the helm of our vessel never succumbing to stormy seas. What did we look like under their guidance? For generation after generation, murder and theft were almost unheard of amongst our people, and finding a Jew addicted to alcohol or other substances would have been nearly impossible. The Jewish family unit was also healthy. Judaism supports divorce when necessary, but it wasn’t. Husbands and wives were happy together. Excellent education was the hallmark of our nation for children and continuing into adulthood.
HOW DO YOU WANT TO END THIS ARTICLE? THE HEBREW ARTICLE HAS NO SOLID “UMPH” AT THE END, SO HOW ABOUT A NICE LITTLE MESSAGE ABOUT FOLLOWING THE GEDOLIM SUCH AS THE PARAGRAPH BELOW?
Now it’s up to us. There are still leaders in our nation who care enough to admit their mistakes and take responsibility for helping us to avoid ours. The choice is in our hands. We still have the potential to follow Torah leaders and benefit from their responsible, loving guidance today.