The Torah teaches us that the key quality all great leaders must possess is the ability to let go of their egos and fight for the greater good, even at their own expense.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Vayakhel” (Exodus 35:1-38:20) and in it we read of the last details and final hammer blows in the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, which was the portable synagogue that accompanied the Jewish people during their 40 years of wandering in the desert.
The leader of the Mishkan project was a lesser known figure named Betzalel. Apparently, this 13-year-old was one of the greatest leaders that the Jewish people ever had.
As the Talmud states: “There are three things that the God Himself decrees: a decree of famine, a decree of abundance, and the decree of a good leader.”
And, as the Talmud regularly does, it cites Scriptural verses to prove each of these three claims. Regarding the third claim of a good leader, the Talmud cites the verse in this week’s Torah portion: “See, God has proclaimed by name, Betzalel son of Uri son of Chur, of the tribe of Judah.” Hence, we do indeed see that God himself personally provides and declares who is a good leader.
Let’s take a moment to better understand this fellow Betzalel.
As mentioned, Betzalel was the general contractor of the Mishkan construction project. He likely had some artistic and organizational talent. He was likely reliable and dependable and looking to please. But what on Earth made this bar mitzvah boy a “good leader”? Where do we see leadership qualities in Betzalel? Sure, he succeeded in getting the job done (under budget!), and on time, but in what way did he deserve the “good leader” label?
The answer is found in the Midrash, which says that two tribes had partnered in the construction of the Mishkan: the tribe of Judah, with Betzalel as their representative, and the tribe of Dan, with Ohaliav as their representative.
Many questions are asked: Why was this partnership formed? Why only two tribes? Why these two tribes, in addition to other questions as well? Betzalel could have certainly led the project on his own! What’s going on here?
It is explained that many people get involved in communal work for the honor, the ego, and the spotlight. Some people get involved in community projects so that when the job gets done, they’ll have something to brag about for themselves.
But if you ask the same person to “co-chair” a project, they often say no. They don’t want to share the honor or the rewards. They don’t truly care about the project. They care about themselves.
God wants talented people to help out in community projects, but He also wants people who offer their talents without the need for awards and recognition.
God wants people who are interested in the good of the community, not their own good solely. This is why Betzalel was a “good leader”: he didn’t mind sharing the stage. Not only was Betzalel willing to work with someone, but, it is noted, he was assigned to work with someone from the tribe of Dan – the tribe that was considered to be a lowly tribe.
The message of Betzalel is that a good leader is an ego-less leader!
For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below:
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