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Parashat Vayeshev

Most people think that the qualities necessary to become a leader are virtues such as honesty, integrity, the ability to be committed and passionate, communication skills, decision-making capabilities, accountability, delegation, creativity, etc. etc. Those are all important, but they are not the key virtue.

According to President Eisenhower, Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. The difference between a leader and a manager is that a leader is able to set a vision for someone else and help inspire them to reach that vision. A manager just manages, but does not lead. The list above are traits that may be important for managing, but not as crucial for leading.

People ask others to lead them, in all areas of life. It could be not such important decisions, such as choosing the right dish in a restaurant. My wife does not like it when I ask the waiter what is the most common dish in the restaurant. She says that I should just order what I want, not what most people want. But I like my food fresh, and usually the freshest is the item that sells the most. Or, it could be bigger life decisions, like what type of partner in life is most suitable, what type of career to choose, or how to bring up children and direct students. And it is up to you to decide if you want to be able to help those people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it. So, the golden question is, how do we genuinely lead others?

R Yeshaya from Krastir, a.k.a the “Rat Rabbi” (famous for his picture that repels rats, ridding infested areas of them), was among the most humble of Hassidic Rebbes. Someone approached R Yeshaya and confided in him. “Rabbi, I want to commit suicide.” “How do you want to do it?” “I want to jump out of the window of my fourth floor apartment.”

The Rabbi responded, “Oh. What a shame. Such a respectable man. To die in such a fashion. Eyes here, nose there. Arms and Legs scattered on the floor. Isn’t there a better way to do this?” The man thought a bit. “Okay, Rabbi. So, I’ll jump into the raging river.” “Oh. What a shame. Such a nice, sweet guy like you, not to have even a proper burial!  Isn’t there another way?”… Until the person realized his worth. Until he realized that someone accepts him, someone respects him, and someone loves him. He finally found a person who would admire him for who he is, and not judge him for who he is not. This is an example of subtly leading a person to the choice that he subconsciously wants to make.

Ever wonder how, when Yaakov came to Charan with nothing but a walking stick, the first thing he did was to rebuke the local shepherds at the well?  הֵ֥ן עוֹד֙ הַיּ֣וֹם גָּד֔וֹל לֹא־עֵ֖ת הֵאָסֵ֣ף הַמִּקְנֶ֑ה הַשְׁק֥וּ הַצֹּ֖אן וּלְכ֥וּ רְעֽוּ: The day is still long; it is not yet time to gather in the flocks; water the sheep, and let them graze … Why would they listen to him? Would you listen to a homeless foreigner who told you what to do or what not to do?

The answer is simple. Yaakov did not first give rebuke. Before he gave rebuke, he said…אַחַ֖י מֵאַ֣יִן אַתֶּ֑ם. My brothers, where are you from? He first showed Affection, by calling them “my brothers”. And then, Attention, by asking where they are from. The R Yeshaya was able to help this suicidal character by treating him like a person, a friend, not like a “character”.

It is so interesting to watch Yosef’s life unfold. What got him into trouble was telling his brothers his prophetic dreams. The Malbim helps us understand the conversation between Yosef and the brothers. After Yosef tells them the first dream of the sheaves, that his bundle of grain will rise amongst his brothers’ bundles, and the brothers’ bundle would surround the bundle of Yosef and bow down to it; the brothers’ response was הֲמָלֹ֤ךְ תִּמְלֹךְ֙ עָלֵ֔ינוּ אִם־מָשׁ֥וֹל תִּמְשֹׁ֖ל בָּ֑נוּ Will you be king over us? If you will rule over us? What was the double talk?  And why aren’t the words in both cases parallel?  Why, in the Hebrew, does the word “if” appear?

The Malbim writes that there is a difference between a מלך  and a מושל. A מלך  is someone who is appointed out of the will of the people, a leader (the word מלך is similar to the word מוליך) , while a מושל is a ruler that rose to power by force. So, the Malbim continues…  The brothers were challenging Yosef’s prophecy by bringing to his attention the contradiction that the dream entailed. וְהִנֵּ֛ה קָ֥מָה אֲלֻמָּתִ֖י וְגַם־נִצָּ֑בָה וְהִנֵּ֤ה תְסֻבֶּ֙ינָה֙ אֲלֻמֹּ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם  And behold – my bundle arose (amongst the bundles), and it also stood strong. While your bundles surrounded my bundle…The first part of the dream connotes that Yosef would rule his brothers against their will. And behold – my bundle arose. But then, the dream says, While your bundles surrounded my bundle, and bowed to it, which seems to indicate that the brothers willingly accepted Yosef as their ruler…

This is the meaning in the two-part question; Will you be king over us (a leader), if you are a ruler over us? Yosef, once you try ruling, you can’t lead!  Being above, managing, is contradictory to leading. The same person cannot be both a leader and a ruler! (Ultimately the prophetic dream turned into a reality.  Yosef actually started off as a ruler to his brothers, but eventually they accepted his leadership.)

So, Yosef burnt his relationships with his brothers by telling them of his dreams that he would be above them and by giving them the feeling that he wanted to rule over them. By giving them the feeling that he did not care if they wanted his guidance or not. And once the damage was done, no matter how much Yosef wanted to restore the feeling of brotherhood, אֶת־אַחַ֖י אָנֹכִ֣י מְבַקֵּ֑ש, it was too late. No one wanted Yosef as a brother anymore.

Fast-forward 12 years.  Yosef finds himself in jail, as a slave who was accused for immoral behavior with his master’s wife. What got him out of all his mess? What brought Yosef out of his situation? What got the ball rolling, to take him from the bottom of civilization to the leader of the world?  Listen closely to his first words, when he met the Butler and the Baker in prison. When he saw them looking confused in the morning after their dreams, he asked them מַדּ֛וּעַ פְּנֵיכֶ֥ם רָעִ֖ים הַיּֽוֹם why do you look so sad today? From there, Yosef became known as the interpreter of dreams, and was brought to Pharaoh… and the rest is history.

Real leadership is not taking over the steering wheel. It is much more like being the Waze for the driver.   It is about putting your will aside, so that the will of others will shine. It has been said that the Hebrew word רשע, is an acronym of the words רצון של עצמי. Concentrating on one’s own desires negates one’s ability to recognize the needs of others. And it negates one’s ability to recognize the Will of G-d. Without the awareness of the will of others, one can never be a true leader.

So, if you want to lead those you love, instead of asking yourself what you need in the relationship, ask what they need in the relationship. Instead of asking yourself what is bothering you, ask yourself what is bothering them. Instead of thinking of how you wished your dream spouse/ child/ parent/ boss would be, think of what their dreams of you would be… Then, and only then, will you be able to lead.



About the author, Yosef

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