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D’var Torah: Parashat Vayelech

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In this week’s D’var Torah for Vayelech, the Chief Rabbi describes the key features of great leadership.

What are the ingredients of great leadership? This is what Moshe had on his mind when he was considering the best possible message to give to Yehoshua, his successor, just before Moshe passed away. How was he to inspire Yehoshua to be a great leader?

In Parashat Vayelech, Moshe says to Yehoshua, “Ki Ata Tavo Et Ha’am – You must come with the people” – be part of the people, let them know that you are one of them. Then Moshe goes on to say to Yehoshua, “Ki Ata Tavi Et Bnei Yisrael – You must lead the Children of Israel.” Not as one of them, but rather as somebody out in front, taking the lead and saying to all others, “Acharai – Follow me.”

Moshe gave to Yehoshua the ‘Tavo’ and the ‘Tavi’ approach of leadership. People need to know that their leader empathises with them, is one of them, and identifies with them. And at the same time they need to see him/her as an outstanding leader and authority.

We find the same thing implied in a verse that is repeated dozens of time in the Torah. Hashem says to Moshe, “Daber El Bnei Yisrael, Va’amarta Aleihem – Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them.” What is the difference between ‘speaking’ and ‘saying’?

‘Daber’ means ‘speak with authority’. Stand and give that speech, give the ‘drasha’ – the sermon. Let them know that you are their leader. ‘Va’amarta – and you will talk to them.’ That means to have a conversation, a chat, be one of them. Speak to them about whatever is on their minds  – the weather, the news or the sport.

Hashem was teaching Moshe that to be the ultimate leader you need to engage in ‘Dibur’ and ‘Amirah’. Speaking with authority and conversing as one of the nation.

This lesson, ‘Daber’ and ‘Va’amarta’, ‘Tavi’ and ‘Tavo’, applies not only to national leaders and to Rabbis, it applies, for example as well, to parents. It is so important for parents to be friends of their children. To relate, with affection, to their children. To have fun with their children. But it is also important for children to know that their parents are the authority in the home. Striking the right balance is the ultimate challenge that all parents face.

So too for teachers in the classroom and with regard to all positions of leadership and authority.

The fusion of ‘Tavi’ and ‘Tavo’ provides us with the ingredients for truly outstanding leadership.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova