We had been in basic training for two weeks. Up until now, the Staff Sergeant had been dealing with us directly for over 18 hours a day. Now, things were changing.

Tonight we were voting, by secret ballot, for our "leader" – the person who would represent us to the brass, the upper echelons of the military. Many of the sergeant's commands and orders would go through this person. He was to be called the First Private. And he could also make requests on our behalf. Decades later, it is hard to imagine what all the fuss was about.

He told us he would have the Staff Sergeant wrapped around his little finger in no timeBut then it seemed like life or death. Who was more likely to get us an extra 30 minutes of sleep? Who would best represent us and make us look good? Whose voice did we want to listen to day in and day out? Who was less likely to annoy the Staff Sergeant?

The entire platoon got together. Anyone running for the position had one minute – that's right, 60 seconds – to speak. After all the speeches, candidates left the room for a secret vote. No discussion at all. Very simple.

Danny Abraham stood up first to announce he was running. No surprise there. He felt he was G‑d's gift to humanity. Big Talker. Confident. Charismatic. Bit of a smart-aleck. A group of followers cheered. He told us he would have the Staff Sergeant wrapped around his little finger in no time, and get us extra sleep, free beer and Shabbat off. He had the wild vote, and the gullible one.

Yakov Milinsky stood up next. Big Boy. Big Smile. Likeable. "I was President of my student council and many other organizations. I know how to organize, persuade and deliver." Straight pitch. He had the thinking crowd.

Josh Cohen was pushed from behind into the ring.

Josh sheepishly smiled. "Well," he began, "I wasn't gonna run but I was taught that whenever something needs to be done – you do it. And I've tried to live that way. So if you choose me, I'll do my part."

His words rang true. Everyone had noticed that Josh was always the first to volunteer his help. He was never late for roll-call and helped weaker recruits on hikes. He would carry the stretcher more than anyone else, and never take a rest on it. He was reliable and responsible. If you needed help, you went to Josh. He was a rock. Simply put, he was there.

I wasn't surprised that Josh won.

All of us, however, were surprised that Josh won unanimously. The platoon understood that someone who takes personal responsibilities that seriously is the best person to take responsibility for us.

Moses, Our Leader

Moses wasn't an orator, and we have no evidence that he was student council president or anything of the kindPassover is the time of the Exodus from Egypt. G‑d is the One who took us out, of course, but He appointed a man named Moses to be our leader. The interesting thing is that until that time, Moses was not one of the leaders of the Jewish people. He wasn't an orator, and we have no evidence that he was student council president or anything of the kind. So why was he chosen to lead the Jewish people?

Let's take a look at what leadership is. Leadership does not mean the ability to get other people to do what you want. A leader is one who takes responsibility.

Moses ... went out to his brethren and observed their burdens and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren. He turned this way and that and saw there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2: 11-12)

On a superficial level, it seems that Moses was checking to see if he could "get away with it" without being caught. But Jewish sources explain that the message is much deeper; the Torah needn't have told us that Moses checked for Egyptian onlookers, and certainly wouldn't have phrased it in such a strange way ("there was no man").

The Torah is teaching us that Moses understood that no one else was going to stop the Egyptian and do justice. Moses understood that, as the sage Hillel formulated it in a passage 1000 years later, "In a place where there is no man, strive to be a man" (Ethics of our Fathers 2:6). He understood what he needed to do – he saw that he had a responsibility – and he did it.

There is a tendency in society – and in each of us – to go with the flow or to choose the path of least resistance. This is the opposite of freedom; ultimate slavery is living my life as others do, or not taking the energy to figure out what is really important to me. But a leader is someone who leads himself, rather than let others do it for him.

The Torah is filled with the story of our people. It tells us the history, the high points and low points, the successes and failures. It reveals man's greatest opportunities and the risks inherent in life, and asks us to make the right choice.

Judaism wants us to become knowledgeable, growing individuals. A person who takes responsibility for his own journey will inevitably influence others, as I learned from Josh Cohen all those years ago.

A person who asks questions is someone who will eventually figure things outThis is where the role of questioning enters. I can ask questions, grapple with ideas, share insights. A person who asks questions is someone who will eventually figure things out… and then have more questions. He will grow, take responsibility, and make the world a better place. But a person who doesn't ask questions will have difficulty learning. He will be passive, need direction, be dependant on others.

There is an old joke that says, "Two Jews, three opinions."

Shortly after his retirement, French President Charles de Gaulle had a conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. De Gaulle complained, "Do you know how difficult it is to lead a country that has 265 kinds of cheese?" Golda Meir answered, "Can you imagine how difficult it is to lead a country that has three million Prime Ministers?"

We Jews are an opinionated people. While occasionally this has its disadvantages, there is a big plus to such an attitude: we are not a nation of followers. Jews could never commit genocide and say "we were following orders." It goes against our very nature.

Life is not supposed to be passive. Life is about learning, understanding, growing. It is about asking questions and getting answers. As the Mishna says, "Im ain ani li, mi li?" which loosely translates as "If I don't take responsibility for myself, who will?"

Teaching Responsibility

Passover night reminds us that our job as Jewish parents is to help our children ask questions about being Jewish, so they can begin to take responsibility for their own Judaism. We need to teach our kids that they can understand the world, at least some of it, and that they can work toward a meaningful goal. As they grow older, teenagers need to know that they should not follow the path of least resistance, but be the greatest kind of leaders: people who lead themselves.