Sunday, January 6, 2019

Two Types of Leadership - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Va'eira 5779

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Va'eira 5779. I usually do not include the personal remarks Rav Weinberger makes for smachos in the shul, but as at the request of one of the fathers of the young couple who just got married on Sunday, I did include these remarks here. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Va’eira 5779
Two Types of Leadership

Let us understand the what the Torah teaches us about what it means to be a true Jewish leader based on one Rashi in this week’s parshah. First, we know that love comes in two varieties, conditional and unconditional. In the language of Chazal, these are called “love which is dependent on something” and “love which is not dependent on something” (Avos 5:16).

Although there are a wide spectrum of personality traits for both mothers and fathers, generally speaking, fathers tend more toward conditional love and mothers tend more toward unconditional love. Children, especially boys, often experience their fathers as having a strict set of expectations for them. And their expressions of love are predicated on the fulfillment of those expectations. Many men find communicating the depth of their love for their children very difficult unless their hopes, dreams, and expectations for them are met.

Mothers, on the other hand, generally have an easier time communicating their love for their children no matter what. Children need to grow up with expectations and the fatherly love which comes with the fulfillment of those expectations to increase their chance of success in life. But without that immovable motherly love undergirding the measures of success they attempt to attain, they cannot survive. They cannot go on. If a person lacks that foundation of unconditional love, demands and expectations are likely to completely break a person.

This dichotomy exists in the two primary ways Hashem expresses Himself in His relationship with us – as The Holy One Blessed is He (the fatherly expression) and the Divine Presence (the motherly expression). The masculine side manifests itself through psukim like, “If you will walk in my statutes and observe My mitzvos and do them, I shall give you rain in its time, the earth shall give its produce, and the tree of the field its fruit” (Vayikra 26:3-4). The promises are predicated by the word “If.” These expressions of Hashem’s love come with strings attached.

On the other hand, Hashem manifests His motherly side through psukim like, “And even when they are in the land of their enemy, I will not despise or hate them to destroy them to nullify My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their G-d” (Vayikra 26:44) and “Who dwells with them within their impurity” (Vayikra 16:16). Hashem shows us that He loves us unconditionally, no matter what, and nothing can sever our connection to Him.

This parental and Divine dichotomy also presents itself in the two paradigmatic leaders of our people – Moshe and Aharon. As the Gemara says, “Moshe would say, ‘Let justice pierce the mountain [i.e., be absolute]’” (Sanhedrin 6b). We explained that fathers often have difficulty expressing their love when their children do not meet their expectations. As the Maharal explains in Gevuros Hashem (28), sometimes great, spiritual people are unable to communicate to others the depth of what is in their heart. As intellectually lofty as they are, they lack a fully developed power of speech, which is a lower-order, but critical, faculty.

While we cannot understand the complexity of Moshe’s greatness, he himself acknowledged this difficulty when he said, “I am not a man of words” (Shmos 4:10), the last letters of which spell “Shamai” – the tana who paradigmatically expressed strict judgment. The Torah says about Aharon, on the other hand, “And he will be a mouth for you” (ibid. 16), the initial letters of which spell “Hillel” – the tana who paradigmatically expressed mercy. And it was Hillel who said. “Be of the students of Aharon” (Avos 1:12).

We see that this dichotomy in their leadership styles played itself out in the Torah as well. Even though Moshe loved the Jewish people deeply, after the sin of the golden calf, he distanced himself from them, always placing a veil over his face (Shmos 34:33) and moving his tent outside the camp )ibid. 33:7) . Moshe ascended Mount Sinai to commune with Hashem alone, while Aharon remained with the people, trying to work with them in their confusion and delay their sin, hoping that Moshe would return before it went too far.

Aharon was a motherly figure to us, always together with the people, speaking their language and showing them his love for them.  By acting as Moshe’s “mouth,” he was always there for us to translate what Moshe was saying into language we could understand. That is why, in the union between Hashem and the Jewish people, Chazal call Moshe the King’s (Hashem’s) “best man” and Aharon the Bride’s (Jewish people’s) “maid of honor” (III Zohar 20a). 

Which type of leadership is more important or takes precedence? Strict expectations or unconditional love? We find the answer in a Rashi in this week’s parshah on the passuk, “That is Aharon and Moshe” (Shmos 6:26). Rashi asks, “In some places, the Torah places Aharon before Moshe, and in other places, it places Moshe before Aharon.” Why does it do this? “To tell us that they are equal.” The Torah wants us to know that that both types of leadership are equally essential. We need leaders who are not afraid to make demands on their constituents, who are not satisfied with the status quo. Without this fatherly type of leadership, we would not grow or elevate ourselves. But without an undergirding of immovable love, we would lack the emotional wherewithal to survive, much less achieve what our leaders ask of us.

Now that we know both types of leadership, Moshe’s and Aharon’s, are equally essentially, we must ask ourselves which one comes first, and which one comes second. The Torah explicitly tells us this when it says, “And Moshe was eighty years old and Aharon was eighty-three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh” (Shmos 7:7). Hashem brought Aharon into the world three years before Moshe to teach us that when educating our children or leading those in our charge, we will fail if we do not first establish motherly, Aharon-like love. Attempting to set expectations and demands without pre-establishing a foundation of love is not a recipe for success.

There was once a community leader in the Hungarian community of Tisefird who commissioned the writing of a Sefer Torah and held a great hachnasas Sefer Torah ceremony upon its completion in the mid-1800’s. He invited two great tzadikim from the region to this celebration, Rav Tzvi Hirsch from Liska zy’a, and Rav Hillel from Kolmaya zy’a. Though these two tzadikim were equally great, they could not have more different from one another in disposition. While both would have liked to spend Shabbos and the beginning of the week in the wealthy man’s community, Rav Hillel Kolmayer was not able to come for that Shabbos, but postponed his visit to the following week.

During his visit the first week, Rav Tzvi Hirsch could not stop himself from praising the community in general, and the wealthy man hosting the hachnasas Sefer Torah in particular, for the great honor they showed for the Torah and for those who study it. He praised the community and blessed them that they should continue honoring the Torah. Everyone felt elevated and strengthened by the Rebbe’s visit and his encouraging words.

The following week with Rav Hillel Kolmayer was completely different. He asked to speak to the entire congregation Shabbos morning and began by saying, “It is a shame that the donor of the Sefer Torah is providing a covering for the Torah but not providing his wife with the proper clothing to cover herself appropriately.” His message to the community only became harsher from there. He criticized its departures from traditional Jewish customs as in keeping with the ways of the “Enlightenment” and influenced by the evil inclination. The Rebbe’s criticism of the wealthy man in particular, and the community in general, continued throughout his visit.

After Rav Hillel had left the community, they were reeling and feeling broken. The wealthy man sent a messenger to Rav Tzvi Hirsch, ostensibly to ask how he could reconcile his praise of the community with Rav Hillel’s staunch criticism. In reality, he was probably hoping to stir up a dispute between the tzaddikim by obtaining a letter from Rav Tzvi Hirsch criticizing Rav Hillel’s strict approach. He did not receive the answer for which he hoped.

Rav Tzvi Hirsch explained that both his and Rav Hillel’s approaches were correct. As the Torah tells us in parshas Shmos, “And the king of Egypt said to the Jewish midwives, ones of whose name was Shifra and the name of the second was Puah” (Shmos 1:15). There are two ways to give life to the Jewish people. There is the way of Shifra, whose name means “beautiful,” which is to see the beauty and goodness in others, encouraging them to see the good in themselves. He said about himself, “I cannot help myself. Hashem made me a ‘Shifra’ Yid. My way is seeing and showing Jews the good in themselves and in others.”

Rav Tzvi Hirsch continued by telling the messenger that Rav Hillel is a “Puah” Yid. The name Puah is an onomatopoeia implying that this midwife made “Pu, pu” sounds to soothe the babies she helped deliver. Thus, Puah is a name implying speech. Rav Hillel’s way is giving life to the Jewish people by speaking to them, by giving them mussar. Rav Tzvi Hirsch explained to the wealthy man’s messenger that the Jewish people need both types of leadership. They need the Aharon/motherly/Shifra approach to develop the emotional and psychological wherewithal to believe in themselves. And they need the Moshe/fatherly/Puah approach to challenge themselves and grow.


May Hashem grant us leaders, rebbeim, and teachers who know when we need the Aharon/motherly/unconditional love approach and when we need the Moshe/fatherly/conditional love approach. And may He open our hearts and our minds to accept both forms of leadership equally so that we may fulfill our communal and individual potentials such that we merit bringing the ultimate leader into this world, Moshiach Tzidkeinu with the arrival of the complete redemption soon in our days.

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