What makes somebody a leader? Is it just the person with the biggest muscles or the loudest voice? Do we even need leaders at all?
The Torah gives us a fascinating insight into what we should expect from our leaders and what they should expect from us. Moses was the great leader of the Jewish people, who had led them out of slavery in Egypt and brought them to boarders of the Land of Israel. But God revealed to Moses at the end of his life that he wouldn’t be the people’s leader when they would finally enter the land to live there as God’s special and spiritual nation. Moses grew very concerned, but not about himself. He knew that without the guidance of a wise and sensitive leader, the Jewish people would be like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Moses begged God to choose a new leader who would be unselfish and sincerely care about, and understand, the needs of every single person in the nation. We can learn from here the Torah’s lesson that we all need leaders to guide us successfully through life, but that a true leader is only someone who is sincerely dedicated to the well-being of others.
In our story a group of kids learn about what makes a leader—and what doesn’t.
Follow the Leader
Mike Aaronson and his friends sure loved to play hoops. All summer long Mike and the boys would be out on the basketball court—from early morning until the fading rays of the late afternoon sun.
Sometimes they would just practice or shoot the ball around amongst themselves. Then there were those special days when they would join up with another group of kids in the neighborhood and have a real “official” game.
Today was such a day, but as game time approached, the boys didn’t know what to do. Their team captain, Mike, had a dentist appointment that day and wouldn’t be around to lead them and decide who would play which position, who would be the starter, who would play center, etc., as he always did.
The kids were trying to decide what to do, when one loud voice ended the discussion. It was Freddy, one of the new kids in the neighborhood. “Hey, I’m gonna be captain, OK?” declared the stocky redhead. Before anybody had a chance to respond, the boy continued, “I can do a better job than anyone else here. My dad was a college basketball coach, and besides, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s my ball.”
The boys looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Freddy was in. They started to play the game and soon enough they began to regret their decision. Whereas Mike would always make sure everybody got a fair chance to play, Captain Freddy chose only his best friends to start the game, and he left them in and everyone else out. He also made sure to take almost all of the shots himself. Mike, on the other hand, would always be careful to pass the ball to someone else to shoot when he saw that the other boy had a clearer shot.
Finally, halftime came and the boys sat on the grass to take their break and have a cool drink. Even though they were winning the game, the only person on the team who seemed to be smiling was Freddy.
But just before it was time to play the second half, Mike surprised everybody by showing up. His dentist appointment had been canceled! All the boys sighed with relief at having their old team leader back. Even Freddy couldn’t complain since everyone knew he was just filling in for Mike.
With that, the boys trotted out to the court with Mike in the lead. Mike, as usual, was careful to get everybody into the game. Even Freddy felt good when Mike (who realized that Freddy might be feeling bad about not being captain anymore) told him to start the game playing center, the most coveted position. The boys enjoyed the rest of the game much more and all agreed that Mike was the kind of leader they were happy to follow.
Nesanel Yoel Safran is a writer, chef, and a teacher/student of Jewish spirituality. He blends these assorted vocations on his blog, Soul Foodie, where you can join him on mystical cooking adventures and glean practical wisdom for the kitchen—and for living. https://soulfoodiecom.wordpress.com/