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Jewish World Review
May 21, 2004
/1 Sivan, 5764
Not man of the people, but man for the people
Rabbi Berel Wein
Of leadership and responsibility
In counting the Jewish people, which is the focus of this week's Torah (Bible) portion, Scripture details the names of the heads of the tribes of Israel who were to
administer the count together with Moses.
The importance of knowing their
names is a matter of puzzlement to many of the commentators to the Bible.
After all, the Torah which is so sparing of words in so many cases and in
its instructions of observance of ritual and mitzvas, religious duties, spends a great deal of
its space to inform us of the names of these heads of the tribes of Israel.
What is especially surprising regarding this matter is that none of these
leaders apparently played a further role in Jewish history. They were all
part of that generation of Jews who died in the desert and never entered the
Land of Israel. So why do they merit to be mentioned in the Torah in such
I feel that the Torah teaches us an important lesson in this instance, as to
Jewish leadership and its responsibilities.
Leaders are to be held
personally responsible for failures in leadership. If the Torah had not told
us the names of the leaders of the tribes of Israel, those who failed to
rally their constituents to belief and courage and thus doomed them to die
in the desert, then we would assess the blame for this sad result on
historical or social causes, anonymous villains or perhaps just bad luck.
But, as the Torah names the leaders of the tribes, it makes them personally
(and eternally) responsible for their failure. This is a harsh and
unforgiving lesson, but it is one of truth and clear vision.
The mantle of
official leadership in Jewish life is a very heavy one. The responsibilities
are great and the danger of serious error abounds. Leaders must be aware of
this when they assume positions of influence in Jewish life. Their names are
recorded and they will be judged for good or for better based upon the
results, even those unintended, of their decisions and behavior.
Judaism preaches and teaches that history is shaped by the actions of
humans. The Marxist doctrine of history, shaped and governed by irresistible
and omnipotent social and economic forces unaffected by the decisions and
behavior of individual people, is the antithesis of Jewish tradition.
make history and shape events, and again for good or for better. One cannot
escape personal responsibility by placing the blame for what goes wrong on
outside forces, fate or chance.
Judaism is the faith of personal
responsibility. This is true not only in leadership roles but in everyone's
personal life as well. All of our names are recorded next to our decisions
and actions. Personal responsibility is the watchword of Jewish faith and
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JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and
founder of the Destiny Foundation.
He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com.
Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Rabbi Berel Wein