The Value of Leadership by Branden Johnson, Program Director | Camp Ramah Northern California

The Value of Leadership by Branden Johnson, Program Director

The culture of Ramah Galim is founded on four primary midot – values – midot, which influence our programming and relationships at every level. Those four midot are: Kavod, respect; Ahavat Yisrael, a love of Israel; Simcha, joy or happiness; and Manhigut, leadership.

Two years ago, I moved to Israel, where I study in the Center for Jewish Educators at Pardes in Jerusalem. Ramah Galim has become my home away from home, the place where I spend the most time outside of Israel. I always look forward to my time here, where I get to connect with this incredible community and witness, in real time, the preparation of the next generation of leaders.

This week’s parasha, Pinchas, focuses on manhigut. It presents a series of three vignettes that show different types of leadership, each with unique merits and each with a unique outcome. Everything is framed by the context of the narrative which, at the end of the book of Numbers, finds Moses looking for a successor to lead the people into the land.

Pinchas, the man for whom this parasha is named, was a zealot and passionate leader. But Moses saw the risks: Someone so passionate would be blinded to the needs of those who rely on him, and to the differences among the members of the community. In contrast to Pinchas, Moses was chosen by God to be leader because he searched for a lamb who went astray, and had compassion on its need for water (Sh’mot Rabbah 2:2). Although Pinchas was rewarded in his relationship with God, he could not be the leader of the people. Pinchas’ style of leadership was a politics of division. Moses’ style was a leadership of compassion.

In the next story, the daughters of Zelophehad overcome the Torah’s trope of sibling rivalry to challenge the legal system of a patriarchal society and prevail through their courage and cooperation. They demonstrate the power of coming together with a goal of challenging an established paradigm for the greater good. The fact of their success is a testament to the values of fairness and equality of the Torah. And finally we have the story of Joshua, who patiently sat at Moses’ feet and learned from watching him lead, who is chosen as Moses’ successor to lead the people into the land.

Successful leadership should be reflective and passionate, tempered by concern for the needs of the members of the community. Jewish leadership is inspired by tradition and precedent, but open to change and adaptation. Above all, leadership flourishes when centered around the idea that the leader is a part of the community being led. At Ramah Galim, our four midot support and enhance one another. For us, Manhigut depends on Kavod – respect for each other, for our leaders, and for our whole community; it depends on Ahavat Yisrael – love of the Jewish People, the land of Israel, and the diversity within them; and it depends on Simcha – finding joy in our connections, our relationships, and in working together to build a kehillah kedoshah – a holy community.

May we all find some time this Shabbat to think about the connections in our lives that help us to be good role models and leaders for the next generation.