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Jewish World Review
July 9, 2004
/ 20 Tamuz, 5764
Mastery over oneself
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
The secret of effective leadership
The dialogue between Moses and G-d is noteworthy.
Moses asked for his successor to be selfless
and totally devoted to the people .
Let G-d, L-rd of all spirits, appoint a person
over the congregation (Numbers 27:16) which the foremost commentator, Rashi, explains
to mean ''a person who can understand and relate to
each individual.'' G-d responded, ''Take to yourself Joshua,
the son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit'' (27:18)
In what way does Joshua's being ''a man in whom there is spirit'' satisfy the qualifications Moses requested?
The Alter (Elder) of Novaradok explains this well. The human being is
comprised of a body and a spirit. The body produces all the cravings that
stimulate pursuit of self-gratification. The spirit is the force that directs the person
away from self-gratification, to be devoted to a higher goal in life. These two
components are engaged in a struggle for mastery over the person. To the degree
that bodily drives prevail, to that degree the person is self-centered. To the degree
that the spirit prevails, to that degree a person can look away from his own needs
and be dedicated to his mission.
A person who is preoccupied with his own needs cannot empathize fully with
others. In "Not Just Stories" , (Sales of this book help fund JWR) I related an incident of my great-grandfather, Rebbe Mordechai
Dov of Hornosteipel, who underwent an excruciatingly
painful medical treatment without uttering a sound.
At the doctor's astonishment
of such stoicism, Rebbe Mordechai Dov responded, ''If I can withstand the pain I
experience when someone comes to me for help with a problem and I am unable to
help him, I can certainly withstand this pain.''
The ability to relate to and understand every individual requires extraordinary
empathy. Such empathy is possible only in a person who has no self-gratifying
drives, who has subjugated them to the spirit. The ability to be a shepherd who
cares for his flock rather than for his personal interests must be devoid of bodily
drives. Only such a person can be self-sacrificing and absolutely fair to everyone.
G-d's response to Moses' request for a leader with such qualifications was, therefore,
appropriate. ''Take to yourself Joshua, son of Nun, man in whom there is
spirit.'' Joshua had succeeded in achieving self-mastery, of vanquishing the bodily
drives for gratification and making the spirit dominant (Madregas HaAdam vol. 1
Every person is engaged in the life-long struggle between the two opposing
forces. Perhaps the extreme elimination of all self-gratification required of the
leader is not achievable by everyone. However, let us remember that the physical
component of the human being is essentially no different than that of lower forms
''The superiority of man over animal is naught, except for the pure soul''
(Morning service, Nusach Sefard). Our dignity as human beings is directly proportional
to the degree that we achieve self-mastery and dominance of the spirit.
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Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 30 books to his credit, including, "Twerski on Chumash" (Bible), from which this was excerpted (Sales of this book help fund JWR).
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