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Megillah 2a “What Makes a Worthy Leader?”

Megillah 2a "What Makes a Worthy Leader?"
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Note: This post is the first of "Marginal Judaism," a new series of Talmud reflections. For the archive, please visit http://marginaljudaism.blogspot.com. To receive them via email, send a blank email to marginal_judaism-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Talmudic Text:

The Mishnah taught: "The Megilla was read on the 11th day of Adar." From where do we deduce this? From where do we deduce this?! …The rabbis decided that the scroll should be read on Mondays and Thursdays, in order to make it easier for the inhabitants of small villages, who usually came to the towns on Mondays and Thursdays for market.  …We meant to say that the reading of the Megilla was decided by the Members of the Great Assembly (who lived earlier than the rabbis). Now, at the first glance, if the Members of the Great Assembly ordained it should be read on the 14th and 15th, how could the sages believe they had the power to abolish the ordinances of the Great Assembly? Have we not learned in a Mishnah that a Beit Din is not able to abolish the ordinances of its colleagues unless they are greater in wisdom and in numbers? Therefore we must say that all the mentioned days were ordained by the Great Assembly. So where, then, is the biblical hint for the dates? Said Rabbi Shamen bar Abba in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: It is written "To confirm these days of Purim in their times. (Est. 9:31), and "in their times" signifies that many possible times for reading the Scroll of Esther are to be ordained…

Comment:

Do leaders believe their chief obligation is fulfilling the mandate they were handed?

Leadership is different than management. Whereas management directs optimal execution, leadership lives in discerning vision, shaping voice, and inspiring others to feel and act in alignment with that vision and that voice.

Leaders are not necessarily moral, their abilities are not inherently trustworthy, and a large quantity of followers does not indicate goodness.

So what, then, determines the worthiness of a leader?

Our text does not make clear the inner thoughts of the rabbis. But perhaps the sequence (only an excerpt is quoted above) of dissatisfying textual anchors for the observance of Purim indicates their own struggle for authenticity. The past might not dictate policy, but authentic leaders care about history. Hopefully their work within and on behalf of others is based in the resonance they share. It is possible, after all, that the text came after the Purim customs were already widespread, and the rabbis would therefore see as their goal the legitimizing, the "traditionalizing", of popular practice.

But it is also possible that the rabbis of antiquity were reacting to the presence of an absence, the void where God's Home in Jerusalem once stood. Perhaps, alternatively, they were reacting to Priestly elitism and the widespread grief of the newly re-traumatized Jewish People. So they did their best to stabilize, strengthen, and inspire - using the vocabulary of the past to recreate their world.

Regardless of their intent, the rabbis in our text (and its editor!) were human beings occupying positions of leadership. Their fallibility is inherent, and their motives are, at best, discernible after the fact.

In that light, our text offers us this challenge: Is it possible to trust those in positions of influence to lead with integrity? Does the embrace of the past define integrity? Does imagining the future betray it?

The only bellwether might be honest self-reflection. And the subjective nature of your response should also indicate your own desire to lead.

But then the question should occur to you: Where is your own reactive leadership impulse coming from? Can you be trusted any more than anyone else?

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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