Vayichi – The Key to Leadership

Today, our generation faces parallel challenges to those of  the generation of Joshua bin Nun. The two most important issues of our generation are (1) settling the Land and taking hold of it despite the opposition of our enemies, and (2) the return to Judaism and to teaching the Torah to the myriads of our people.

The Redemptive Torah

by HaRav Dov Begon, Head of Machon Meir

“Israel reached out with his right hand and placed it on Ephraim’s head, even though he was the younger son. He placed his left hand on Manasseh’s head” (Genesis 48:14).

Joseph tried to change this and to put his father’s right hand on the head of Manasseh, the older son, but Jacob refused, saying, “I know, my son, I  know [that Manasseh is the firstborn], but his younger brother will become even greater” (Genesis 48:19). Rashi explains that Joshua was destined to emerge from Ephraim, and that Joshua would apportion the Land among the tribes and would teach Torah to Israel. Apportioning the Land and teaching Torah were the most important things in Jacob’s eyes. That is why he put his right hand, the stronger hand, on Ephraim’s head.

Today, our generation faces parallel challenges to those of  the generation of Joshua bin Nun. The two most important issues of our generation are (1) settling the Land and taking hold of it despite the opposition of our enemies, and (2) the return to Judaism and to teaching the Torah to the myriads of our people. Both projects require strengthening. Jacob’s blessing, given with his right hand, the strong hand, defends us and shall continue to do so. “‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ Jacob deliberately put Ephraim before Manasseh” (verse 20).

In our national political situation, we are like a ship that has come upon stormy seas, while the captain has lost his compass and rudder and does not know how to guide the ship to safe shores.

In order to overcome this terrible difficulty and to restore to the ship’s passengers their faith and trust in the idea that it is possible to reach port, we must find the compass and rudder of the Jewish People. We must follow in the paths of Jacob and of Joshua, both of whom believed, even in the most difficult circumstances, in the return to Eretz Yisrael, and in its conquest and settlement despite our enemies.

All this must occur amidst our drawing strength and faith from devotion to and study of the Torah, which has been the source of Israel’s strength and might from time immemorial. King David said, “G-d will give strength to His people,” and “strength” can only refer to Torah. Through this, “G-d will bless His people with peace.”


How do we select a good leader for Israel?

The Talmud teaches (Berachot 25a), “Three require mercy: a good king, a good year and a good dream. A good king, as it says, ‘Like water courses is the king’s heart in the L-rd’s hand; He directs it wherever He wishes’ (Proverbs 21:1).” Just as a farmer controls water flow, irrigating whichever field he wishes, so too, a king’s heart is at G-d’s disposal to direct however He wishes. It follows that we must beseech G-d to show mercy and turn the hearts of our leaders in the right direction, and all the more so, to send His people good leaders who will lead them in the right direction.

Our sages declared that “we do not appoint a leader over the community without the community’s prior approval.” In other words, the community must select its leaders. The question is therefore asked: What makes a good leader, and what must his characteristics be? Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook explains:

“There are three virtues associated with a good leader. The first is holiness — possession of a pristine soul and a pure heart. This trait is associated with the idealistic person who acts exclusively on behalf of the public good, without any vested interest. The second is that he must be very wise so that he can lead his community sagaciously. The third is that he must be a man of formidable appearance, with an eloquent tongue that captures the heart of the masses. In other words, he must be popular. Our priorities must be as follows: First comes purity of heart, then wisdom, and only then popularity. Yet when the order is reversed and popularity takes precedence over the essence, purity of heart, then that leadership goes awry and the nation suffers.” (Ein Aya, Berachot, page 262)

Let us all beseech G-d that we should merit to select the best leadership to lead the Jewish People in the good land, along the twisted, winding road leading up to Complete Redemption.





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