There are many great men and women who have distinguished themselves in public service. What is it that allows them to succeed where others fail?

To paint with a very broad brush, one can suggest that there are two different types of failed politicians.

The first type is the straight-out villain, who is unashamedly out to feather his or her own nest. They might talk the good talk in public; they might make all the right noises about transparency and accountability while trying to get elected. But get to know them personally, and you’ll quickly be disabused of the notion that there is a single altruistic fiber in their being.

A subset of this first class is the incompetent bungler who is wily enough to make his way into politics despite his ineptitude, and has guile enough to stay there for decades, battening at the public purse. They would never survive in the commercial world, where people are judged by results and where failure is rewarded by dismissal, not a pension for life.

The second type of failed politician is the honest, well-meaning, truly dedicated man or woman who wants to make a difference and leave a positive influence on the world. They try hard in the common cause, and sacrifice their health and family life in their dedication to their constituents. They are certainly well-intentioned, but seldom enjoy longevity. Like moths consumed by the flame of their own altruism, they tend to quickly burn out and, all too soon, disappear from public life, having run out of ideas and finding it impossible to maintain their high standards.

A true leader rises above the divide between either of these options. Their focus is on serving others, but they do not forget the need for self-actualization and self-improvement in the process. I once heard the secretary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, describe the Rebbe’s schedule. He pointed out that concurrent with all his dedicated communal endeavors, international strategizing, public pronouncements and dealing with individuals and groups, the Rebbe would nevertheless set aside a major part of his day, every day, for private study.

We’ll be introduced this week to Moses, the greatest leader in history and the man who single­handedly inspired a nation and led us from misery to opportunity. The Torah records that from the moment he was born, “he was good.” The commentators explain that this essential “goodness” could be observed two separate ways: 1) he was born circumcised, and 2) upon his birth the whole house filled with light.

I would suggest that these two miracles represent the greatness that was Moses, and demonstrate his essential qualities as a leader of men. A leader is a luminary, filling the room with the light of his own personality. Leadership is the act of being there for others, and impacting their lives for the better. Even from a young age, Moses was marked as an ambassador of goodness and kindness, and forever shone his radiance into the lives of his people.

But a leader cannot just talk the talk to others; he has to be a paradigm of excellence in his own right. When we circumcise our sons we make them into complete Jews, both physically and spiritually. The fact that Moses was born circumcised demonstrates that he had already achieved his own measure of perfection, and thus had the right to attempt to influence others.

We all have the capacity for accomplishment, and the responsibility and ability to lead. Our main purpose in life is to reach out and bring the light of Judaism into the hearts and minds of all. However, we have a concomitant responsibility to ensure that our own spiritual house is in order and that we live up to the ideals that we publicly espouse. If we can operate on these two fronts as one, then we have lived up to the standards of our leader Moses, and are following in his path of goodness.