Selected Sermon/Article
2002-01-05 Shemos/Installation Shabbos by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Responsible Leadership

Shabbos Sermon Parshas Shemos/Installation Shabbos 1/5/02 'Responsible Leadership'

There were two men named Joe and Ed who worked together in a warehouse. Every noon they sat on the dock and ate their lunches. Each day the same ritual would take place; Joe would open his lunch pail, grimace with disgust at the sandwich he saw inside, and say, "Eww..peanut butter -- I can't stand it!", and throw the sandwich away.

One day his friend Ed, asked, "Joe, how long have you been married?'

"Twelve years," Joe said.

"You've been married twelve years, and your wife still doesn't know that you don't like peanut butter?"

Joe answered defensively, "You leave my wife out of this. I make these sandwiches myself!"

Some people can't take responsibility for anything -- not even for their own happiness!

The topics of responsibility and leadership play a prominent role in the beginning of Sefer Shmos -- the Book of Exodus -- as we're introduced to Moshe Rabbanu.

Moshe Rabbanu is the paradigm of the 'leader, par excellence' When we think of Moshe Rabbanu, the classic traits of leadership come to mind. Traits such as decisiveness, belief in his mission and love for his people, are all expressed in the beginning of Sefer Shmos.

However, like most people new to a position, Moshe had room to grow before assuming the mantle of leadership of Bnai Yisrael.

"Who am I that I should go to Pharoah, and that I should take the children of Israel out of Egypt?" (Shemos 3:11)

Rashi explains that in attempting to push off G-d's directive, Moshe gives two excuses:

1) I'm not fit for the job

2) It's doubtful that the mission will succeed, given that Bnai Yisrael doesn't merit to come out of Egypt.

After a further and extended dialogue with G-d, where Moshe tries several times to evade his assignment, G-d becomes angry.

"G-d's anger flared at Moshe, and He said, 'I know that Aharon, your brother, the Levite, will speak.." (Shemos 4:14)

Rashi explains that Moshe was punished here by losing the Kahuna -- the Priesthood -- in favor of his brother Aharon.

While it's certain that Moshe's recalcitrance is a result of his extreme humility, Hashem apparently didn't respond very well to this humility. He regarded Moshe as the best person to get the job done; thus, Moshe's misplaced humility was an attempt to slip away from the demand that the situation placed upon him, to accept upon himself responsibility.

Will Rogers once said that the history of North America would be written in three phases: The passing of the Indian, the passing of the buffalo, and the passing of the buck.

The defining character trait of a leader is someone who is willing to take responsibility, someone who is willing to step up to the plate because the job needs to be done.

Stephen Kindel, in his book Leadership For Dummies, identifies the four most basic leadership qualities that all leaders share. In fact, without any one of these 4 traits, he says, you disqualify yourself as a leader! What do you think is number one on his list?

The first trait Kindel identifies as indispensable for leadership is: Embracing Responsibility. Unless one is willing to accept the obligation to see a project or cause through to the end, you can call yourself any one of a number of things, but you can't call yourself a leader.

It's not coincidental that this lesson of leadership from Parshas Shemos presents itself to us on our Installation Shabbos. After all, what are the officers, trustees and Board members of a shul, if not leaders of our congregation?

It's my opinion that many synagogues today lack the leadership they need to succeed. Thousands of synagogues are over-managed and under-led. It's not because the rabbis and officers lack charisma, but because few have a clear understanding of what leadership is and what it can accomplish.

Leaders are people who when they see the need, take the bull by the horns and see the job through to completion. Leaders are people who don't wait to be asked -- or nudged -- by the rabbi, or by the president, but they step forward and volunteer to take care of the problem. Leaders are people who aren't content to be passive, anonymous 'members of a committee' -- but they feel the weight upon their shoulders, personally, to get the job done.

It's my feeling that as the new term for officers, trustees and Board members begins here at our shul, that we're blessed with marvelous leadership potential. Don't be like the fellow with the peanut butter sandwiches who we spoke about earlier who was unwilling to take responsibility. If you can decide that You're the one who is going to make a difference, You're the one who is going to get the job done, and You're the one upon whom the success of NHBZ depends in the next several years, I have no doubt that you'll be successful.

(insert blessing for the new officers)

May Hashem bless your efforts, and in the spirit of the lesson learned by Moshe Rabbanu, may each of you demonstrate true leadership for our shul, and rise to the importance of your respective positions, by taking responsibility for the success of our shul.