The Nature of a Leader

Why do we gravitate to the charismatic and charming when choosing our leaders? We look for a leader that can galvanize the masses, lead the government, command the military and interact with fellow heads of state. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton is a perfect example; he has a brilliant mind and a compassionate heart, but he wasn’t elected for his brilliance. He was elected for his charm.

Why do we gravitate to the charismatic and charming when choosing our leaders?

The plain fact is that our teachers, who provide the vital contribution of molding the hearts and minds of the next generation, are not respected accordingly. They are disdained, and often even demeaned. We don’t honor their achievements, and their pay is not commensurate with their contribution to society.

The lack of respect for teachers is often bemoaned, but today I want to go further and speak of the humble, righteous and pious. It is difficult to identify and locate these people, since they shy away from the limelight; but once identified, these people can, and should, become the pillars of society. They should be embraced as mentors. Instead they are trivialized as naive, unrealistic and irrelevant.

In this regard I return to Bill Clinton. When his indiscretions during his tenure in office came to light, America was gripped by a fierce debate. Many maintained that leaders who don’t adhere to moral standards are unfit to lead. But there were also those who brazenly maintained that leadership has little to do with morality and everything to do with able stewardship.

It is this mentality that leads children to idolize athletes who have never completed high school, and movie heroes who abuse drugs. Why should we expect anything different from our children, when they hear us pontificate on the unimportance of morality?

This was not always the case. Moses was chosen as the people’s shepherd because of his compassion. G‑d watched him follow a single sheep that wandered across the desert in search of water. He carried the sheep back in his hands and muttered, “If only I had known you were thirsty, I would have provided water.”1

He was humble and didn’t want the position, which is precisely why G‑d chose him.

When King Saul was anointed, he was nowhere to be found. They searched and searched, and finally found him hiding in a closet. He was humble and didn’t want the position, which is precisely why G‑d chose him.2

G‑d’s selection of King David surprised even Samuel the prophet. David was not tall, strong or broad like his brothers, nor did he appear to possess warrior qualities. But G‑d selected David for his soul, not his physique. “Man sees with his eyes,” G‑d gently chided Samuel, “but G‑d peers into the heart.”3

Priestly Vestments

With this in mind, we seek understanding of a curious verse with respect to the priestly vestments. At first G‑d instructed Moses, “You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory.” Then, in the next verse, G‑d seems to amend His plan. “And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, and they shall make Aaron’s garments.”4

Who was to make the garments, Moses or the wise-hearted tailors? Further, were these garments to be holy or not? Moses was instructed to fashion holy garments, but the word “holy” was omitted from the description of the garments that the tailors were instructed to sew.5

It has been suggested that G‑d was speaking of two sets of garments: one fashioned by Moses, and the other by the tailors. Moses made garments for the soul. The tailors made garments for the body.6

Garments are mediums through which we express ourselves. We dress casually to put others at ease, and we dress professionally to project an air of competence; we speak through our clothing.

The soul also requires a garment. The naked soul is a raw, spiritual energy, which cannot be expressed in the physical world without a garment—an intermediary between the material and the spiritual. Our sages taught that humility and awe are the garments for the righteous.7

G‑d selected Aaron for the position of high priest precisely because he was a model of both humility and awe; but still, to be high priest, Aaron would need to take his reverence and humility to a higher level. He needed to upgrade these attributes and don higher garments. Moses was the best candidate to fashion such garments for Aaron (or, more accurately, to model these attributes for Aaron), because Moses was the most humble and the most G‑d-fearing person on earth.8

These are the first set of garments, the ones Moses was instructed to weave. These inner garments were holy; they beautified Aaron’s soul and gave the nation reason to anoint and follow him. The outer garments, sewn by the tailors, were made of physical cloth. They clad his body in dignity and lent him an aura of prestige. But those were only the accoutrements of priesthood, not its primary cause. Leaders are meant to be appointed for their character and piety, not their dignity and prestige. 9

The Balance

Leaders therefore require outer garments that lend honor and prestige.

Still, the outer garments are an important accessory. If Aaron had donned only his inner garments, but wore regular attire on the outside, no one would recognize his piety, and he would not have been respected in the priesthood. Leaders therefore require outer garments that lend honor and prestige.

On the other hand, when leaders wear only outer garments and don’t underscore the importance of their humility and piety, they get caught up with their power and authority, and soon forget why they were selected. Before long, these wonderfully pious people grow arrogant, conceited and corrupt.10 The requirement of the priestly leaders to focus constantly on their inner garments reinforced their piety and humility, reminding them of their mandate to serve both the people and G‑d.

The Torah goes out of its way to teach us that preoccupation with either set of garments is ineffective. It is only with the proper balance between internal growth and external leadership that nations and leaders can succeed.11