Last week’s Torah portion was the final reading in the Book of Numbers, Matot-Massei. Among many things, the Torah portion talks about the Israelites’ journey through the desert. And, as part of that experience, Aaron, Moses’s brother, passes away at the age of 123. He was revered for who he was and his focus in life. And, interestingly, he is the only person whose date of death is specifically mentioned in the Torah (Numbers 33:38) – the 1st of Av, thus his yahrzeit was this past Monday.
In his honor, I want to talk about one of the most famous “leader families” in our Jewish tradition –Aaron, his younger sister, Miriam, and the youngest sibling, Moses. They were each extraordinary leaders with their own unique style, guiding the Jewish people in different ways. Over time, Moses, Miriam and Aaron forged a successful partnership. They constituted a powerful leadership team that dealt successfully with the trials and ordeals of a forty-year journey in the wilderness. Miriam’s role as spiritual leader complemented the roles of Moses, the legislator, and Aaron, the peacemaker. Each covered for the other’s shortcomings and, together, they succeeded in guiding the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel.
Moses was able to use the “power of the moment” to carry the nation of Israel. Think about what you would do with a massive group of people once you ran across a parted sea seeing those chasing you engulfed in the water. Moses realized that acting quickly and decisively was the way to rally the people. He knew that people seek direction and respond to those willing to take charge. And Moses took charge by taking the initiative to organize the masses.
After the crossing, the Torah teaches that Moses began to sing, and the people followed. At that time, Miriam, who had waited until he was finished, “took a drum in her hand, and all the women went out after her with drums and with dances. And Miriam chanted for them....” Miriam’s model of leadership valued delay. She recognized the power of timing, holding back until the people were ready. Being a leader often demands restraint, not impulsivity. It means relating to followers in ways that build confidence and understanding.
In contrast to Moses, yet more similar to Miriam, Aaron, the High Priest, was deeply involved with the people, concerned for their well-being. Aaron truly loved and pursued peace. He became involved personally with the people and their problems – he was one of them.
Researchers have found a correlation between birth order and certain personality traits related to leadership. First-borns (Aaron) tend to be high achievers, perfectionists, organized, rule keepers, and detail oriented. Is this not a description of a High Priest? Middle children tend to be flexible, diplomatic, and social; and female middle children (Miriam) tend to be very relationship oriented. Last-borns (Moses) are predominately risk takers, idea people, creative, and questioning of authority.
On Monday, Umair Haque published an article on the Harvard Business Review Blog talking about leadership.
Dr. Haque writes, “Leadership — true leadership —is a lost art. Leaders lead us not to a place — but to a different kind of destination: to our better, truer selves. Wannabes — want to be who leaders are, but cannot: they want the benefits of leadership, without the price; they want the respect, dignity, and title of leadership, without leading people to lives that matter. Wannabes impoverish us. Leaders enrich us.”
In the article, Dr. Haque shares multiple ways to start being a (real) leader – and stop being just another “wannabe.” I am sure you will see aspects of Aaron, Miriam, and Moses in each of these.
Obey — or revolt? The simplest difference between leaders and wannabes. Wannabes respond predictably. Leaders play a very different role – their job is to create a (bit of) revolution.
Conform — or rebel? Are you breaking the rules or following them? The rules are there for a reason: to preserve the status quo. Leaders must “break the rules” and show followers that rules not just can, but must be broken.
Vision — or truth? The wannabe sets a vision. The leader has a harder task: to tell the truth, as plain as day. Vision matters and can inspire people. But, if you really want to inspire people, tell them the open and real true story of “what is.” One of the surest tests of a true leader is whether they are merely selling a grand vision, or instead, helping bring people a little closer to the truth.
Archery — or architecture? Wannabes are focused on specific metrics. The leader knows their job is not merely to maximize existing metrics, but to reimagine them. The leader's job is, not merely to "hit a target" – but to redesign the playing field.
Love — or LOVE. Let’s not confuse love with enjoyment. LOVE – true love, the real thing, is every bit as much painful as it is pleasant. It transforms us. And that is the surest hallmark of a true leader. They have a thirst not merely for love – but to love. True leaders must, despite the price, through the pain, into the heart of very heartbreak itself, lead.
Aaron was THAT leader…the one who LOVEd. The one who stood by and supported his brother, reached out to the people, and worked to achieve peace and understanding. He was about the truth and thus helped transform the Jewish people.
Dr. Haque concludes, “Leaders inspire us. Leaders, more importantly, bring out the best in us. They evoke in us our fuller, truer selves. And that is why we admire them – not merely because they paint portraits of a better life, but because they impel us to be the creators of our own.”
Our people are blessed to have leaders like Aaron, Miriam and Moses. May we all strive to enrich ourselves and others, just as they did.