|Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile. Vince Lombardi|
How does one make a leader? Let’s take a look at one of Judaism’s best; Moses. In addition to his many accomplishments, his crowning achievement was that he had a clearer vision of the Almighty than anyone had ever had. G-d testified that “I speak to him, in a clear vision; not in riddles” (Num. 12:8). Moses’ sister, Miriam, mistakenly interpreted something Moses did as being too extreme religiously and mentioned it in a derogatory way to her older brother, Aaron. G-d chastised them both (Miriam for speaking and Aaron for listening). They did not see Moses’s uniqueness; what special quality did he possess?
Rav Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821) explains that humility was the aspect that set him apart from the rest.
And the man Moses was more humble than any other person (Num. 12:3). This quality enabled him to see G-d more clearly than any other prophet. But what does that have to do with us? What life lessons can be learned? How does Moses’ exalted level of prophecy apply in a practical way? A crucial element in the road to spirituality is how one looks at others. Moses was “exceedingly humble” and it affected the way he viewed others. One of the great 16th century Kabbalists, Rabbi Moses Cordovero, describes humility as the ability for a person of great stature to relate to one of lesser stature without being condescending. This is achieved by seeing the worth of each individual. Moses was unique in his ability to perceive G-d and used it to see G-d in every man and woman. His heightened sense of humility manifested itself in the way he treated people. Everyone has worth because each person is created in the image of G-d. The closer one feels toward G-d, the closer (s)he will be able to find the Divine spark in everyone–even the undesirables because each individual has worth. Moses didn’t have to look up to see G-d; he could see Him in each individual.
Rabbi Cordevero goes on to explain that humility is the key to all good character traits. When we see someone who is angry, jealous, arrogant, impatient, or stubborn it’s because (s)he thinks that (s)he is the most important person in the room. What right does (s)he have to have more money, a better job or marriage, or to be treated better than me? Humility is the realization that G-d was a partner in creating every human being and therefore each one has a purpose and mission. Humble people see their task as empowering others to reach their potential, thereby fulfilling their purpose in the world. There’s no reason to look down on anyone because each has a different purpose.
Wealth, intelligence, level of education, or sophistication will not affect how the humble person treats others. One who acquires this trait will find that other character traits will fall into place automatically.
But why is it such a difficult goal to achieve? It has to do with a disease most of us suffer from called ego. What treatment can we undergo to recover? Rabbi Cordevero makes five suggestions based on deep spiritual principles penetrating the depth of the human psyche, even though he disguises them in a cloak of simplicity.
1. Flee from honor. If people shower you with honor you will get used to it and eventually crave it. At that point, it will be extremely difficult to free yourself from arrogance. One must run from honor at all costs.
2. Be Cognizant of Your Weaknesses. Just because people honor you for what they think makes you great, you still know the truth. There are many areas of your life that need improvement. You might be a great doctor, lawyer, or accountant, you might have won your trade association’s award, but what about your life as a husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, faithful friend? Don’t delude yourself just because some people look up to you. Be honest and know the truth about all your shortcomings. If they knew these things would they still honor you? Probably not, so get over it.
3. Appreciate Disgrace. Think about all the wrongdoings you’ve done both to friends and in your commitment as a Jew. What do you really deserve from G-d? When you are humiliated or disgraced, be happy your payback is not illness, loss of money, or having someone close to you die. Deal with the shame you feel and realize that it’s more desirable than real problems.Rav Cordevero then suggests two more thoughts he says will be helpful but are not as effective as the first three.
4. Respect All Creations – If you embarrass even the smallest most insignificant creation it is a disgrace to its Creator. If G-d made something, He must be very pleased with it or he wouldn’t have created it. How dare we belittle it.
5. Fill Your Heart With Love of Every Person – Even the Less Desirable. Think about them and the opportunities they never had or didn’t take advantage of. Pray that they find their path in life, one with meaning and allowing them to fulfill their potential. When seeing a disheveled vagrant rather than loathe him, ask yourself what is the difference between him and I? If I didn’t have the opportunities available to me, where would I have ended up? Moses is our paradigm for leadership and it’s no coincidence that he was also the paradigm for humility. A Jewish leader will never look down on those he’s been enjoined to lead due to the realization that each has a G-d given task in life no one else can fulfill; the leader’s job is to help the person to realize and carry out that task. Every one of us takes the lead in some aspect of life and the quality and effectiveness of your leadership will be determined by the degree of humility you possess.
(Sources: Ruach Chaim 1:1; Rashi, Genesis 15:5; Tomer Devorah chap. 2; Rabbi Yochanan Zweig)