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Amid Israel’s war in Gaza, there is talk of drafting yeshivah students into the army to bolster its ranks. On Shavuot, we celebrate the anniversary of receiving the Torah, so I want to write about the role of Torah in war. The Torah is not just a dusty old book …

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Home » Politics, Tetzaveh

Tezaveh: How To Choose A Leader

Submitted by on February 6, 2011 – 3:47 amNo Comment | 2,880 views

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 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.

It is often bemoaned that we don’t respect our teachers, who mold the hearts and minds of the next generation, but aren’t honored 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 naturally 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 naïve, unrealistic and irrelevant.

In this regard I return to Former President 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 that have never completed high school and movie heroes who abuse drugs. Why should we expect different from our children when they hear us pontificate on the unimportance of morality?how to choose a leader - innerstream

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)

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 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 amends 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 garments 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, sewed by the tailors. Moses made garments for the soul, whereas the tailors made garments for the body. (6)

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

The soul also requires a garment. The naked soul is a raw spiritual energy that cannot be expressed in the physical world without a garment; an intermediary between the material and spiritual. Our sages taught that humbleness and fear of G-d 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 fear of G-d, 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 man 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, sewed 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

Still the outer garments are an important accessory. If Aaron had only donned 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.

However, if they only wore outer garments and the importance of humility and piety were not underscored, leaders might get caught up with their power and authority and soon forget why they were selected. Before long these wonderfully pious people would grow arrogant, conceited and corrupt. (10) The constant focus on their inner garments reinforced the priestly leaders’ piety and humility; it reminded 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)


  1. Samuel I 10: 22.
  2. Shemos Rabbah 2: 2.
  3. Samuel I 16:7.
  4. Exodus 2 – 3.
  5. We also wonder why the garments Moses was
    instructed to sew were for honor and glory, but no such mention is made
    of the garments sewed by the artisans. See footnote #9
  6. See commentaries of Divrei Yisroel, Malbim, Maharam Shik, Ktav Sofer and others on these verses.
  7. Avos 6: 1. Maharam Shik offered an alternate
    explanation of the inner garments based on Zachariah 3: 3-4 and Rashi’s
    commentary ibid. In those verses good deeds are euphemistically
    described as clean garments and sins as soiled garments. In this context
    Maharam Shik suggests that Moses was instructed to teach Aaron to
    sanctify himself with good deeds and adopt traits of holiness.
  8. See Numbers  12: 3 and Deuteronomy 10: 12.
  9. Divrei Yisrael adds that the garments Moses
    fashioned endowed Aaron with honor and glory, while no such description
    is offered for the garments fashioned by the artisans. (See footnote #5)
    Honor is conferred upon the humble as in the famous dictum of the
    Talmudic sages; he who flees from honor is honored. Glory is also the
    reward of those who fear G-d, for in fear of G-d comes universal
    acknowledgment of G-d and hence His glory. Ohr Hachayim, explains that
    the Zohar links the word honor to the tetragrammaton and glory to the
    name Adnai. The Zohar further explains that the four priestly vestments
    represented the name Adnai and the additional four High Priestly
    vestments represented the tetragrammaton. Using this logic he explains
    the use of the word honor and glory with respect to the priestly
  10. See Ktav Sofer for a slightly different nuance. He
    explains that the outer garments will remind the priest of that which it
    signifies – the inner garment.
  11. This is true of nation’s leaders and it is also
    true of the nation’s leadership role among other nations. If it aspires
    to a position of leadership it must first focus on itself and set a good
    example. It is only when it models success in its own governance that
    it can gain credibility with other nations and be of influence.

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