April 23, 2024
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Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

Toward the end of this week’s parsha, we read about the “mekalel”—the person who cursed Hashem, and whom Hashem determined his punishment to be the death penalty. Interestingly, however, before the sentence is actually carried out, the Torah first seemingly goes on a tangent by teaching laws related to interactions between humans, such as the laws of murder, those who cause physical damagaes to others, and those who cause monetary loss to others. Why did the Torah seemingly interrupt the story of the mekalel, by teaching these laws first, and then only afterward return to teach that the mekalel’s sentence was actually carried out?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that in order for someone to be a competent judge and issue rulings in halachic matters that pertain to a life of another person, it does not suffice to only contain the knowledge of what is right and wrong, true and false, guilty or innocent. Rather, such a judge also needs to have the knowledge and intelligence related to the sensitivities of another person. Not only does he need to fully comprehend the value of a life and what it means to take a life of another person, but he needs to understand and be able to relate to even the slightest of pains experienced by people, whether it’s related to their body, or their property. Therefore, the Torah first needed to teach the laws regarding murder—to instill within a judge the meaning of how valuable a life is—as well as the laws of damages: to instill within a judge the senstivity of understanding another person’s pain be it in relation to the pain felt in his body, or the pain felt in regard to montary loss. Only once these sensitivities and values are inculcated can a judge follow through on a ruling to take a life of a person who is deserving of such.

The question is, why does a judge need to be sensitive to these matters? After all, a rule is a rule, and so, can’t a judge just “play it by the book” and see what the ruling is and issue it? Why should being empathetic to people’s pains and understanding the meaning of a life prevent a judge from being able to issue a ruling? Rav Moshe explains that if a judge lacks the aforementioned, he may be somewhat careless in the way he arrives at his conclusion. Indeed, since he can’t really feel the pain of another person, and since he doesn’t really understand the overwhelming significance of a life, such a judge won’t care so much about the verdict and therefore won’t give his full heart and energy to arrive at the appropriate ruling. Thus, without the aforementioned requirements, he will essentially be lacking in competency as a judge.

This gives us a new perspective on the gedolei Yisrael, the leaders of the Jewish nation. While it might seem that the leaders of our nation are leaders because of their outstanding brilliance, what we may not see as blatantly is the emotional intelligence and sensitivity they have for people. Rav Moshe himself, one of the greatest and most illustrious world-renowned poskim in recent years, was a person who not only had the breadth of Torah knowledge and the command of issuing halachic rulings, but was also a person known to have a deep sensitivity for another person. Toward the end of his life he mentioned, “As far as I know, to the furthest extent of my memory, I never harmed anyone, nor did I ever hurt a person’s feelings.” Rav Moshe wasn’t the type to shoo people away but would give them his time and patience even in situations that an average person perhaps wouldn’t, just for the sake of not causing another person the slightest of pain. Indeed, one woman used to call Rav Moshe every Friday afternoon inquiring of the time to light candles. He would answer and pleasantly wish her a “gutten shabbos.” Many others would perhaps not want to be bothered every week with a question that can easily be found out, but Rav Moshe wasn’t going to hurt another person. There’s another incredible story of Rav Moshe: Rav Moshe was getting into a car in front of the yeshiva, surrounded by students. When he was seated, apparently one of the students closed the door for Rav Moshe, and the driver pulled away from the curb. After driving a few blocks away, Rav Moshe asked the driver if he would not mind pulling off to the side of the road. When the driver stopped the car, Rav Moshe opened the door and removed his frail hand from where the door had just been slammed on his aged fingers. The driver was mortified and asked Reb Moshe why he did not say something way back there when the door was closed. Reb Moshe told the driver that he did not want to say anything immediately because it would have caused a terrible upset to the young man who closed the door.

Even with children, Rav Moshe demonstrated extreme care. One time during the summer, Rav Moshe was in a hotel in upstate New York. When walking to the dining room, he passed by the area right outside the dining room where the women would leave their carriages while they themselves were inside the dining room, and he heard one of the babies crying in one of the carriages. He stopped, went over to the carriage, and started rocking it to calm down the baby. People who were waiting in the dining room for him went out to search for him, only to see him patiently standing over the baby gently trying to put the baby at ease.

We may not be those judges, nor the leaders of the Jewish nation. Yet, Rav Moshe’s message can still apply to us. Many of us are in some kind of leadership or some form of influence. We may think the way to be effective is to have the most knowledge and information possible. And while that is true, it’s only half of the picture. Rav Moshe teaches us that the importance of being emotionally intelligent and developing awareness and sensitivity to the feelings of other people is the other half of the hallmark of a leader, and that this is an integral aspect of what truly reflects upon competency, and what ultimately promotes effectiveness in that pursuit.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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