Shula Bryski

A Tale of Two Leaderships

There is a mystical story told about the Chassidic Master, the Ba’al Shem Tov.

His soul came down to this world together with another, equal in value to his own.

They both made a pact that they would accept their souls’ descent to this physical, turbulent world without crying.

(After all, it is in this same world of pain that we can connect with the essence of G-d, through a mitzvah).

The other soul kept the pact; the Ba’al Shem Tov broke it.

The other soul was blessed with anonymity; the Ba’al Shem Tov was condemned to fame.

It’s a very Jewish story.

If we look at it through a Western, celebrity-infatuated lens, we think, Huh?! Anonymity a blessing? Fame a condemnation?!

But Judaism teaches us that what is accomplished in the private arena is infinitely precious to G-d.

Unlike public acts which are constantly influenced by the eyes that are watching and tainted by ego, unseen acts are pure and sincere in their intentions.

I think it is safe to surmise that most people from all parts of the political spectrum in a moment of honest reflection would agree on one thing: Campaigning is very much a game, calculating one’s every move.

In the political world, one runs after public office with a good dose of self-certainty.

Think of our nominees on the current stage.

In the Jewish stories, our leaders run away from public leadership with an overwhelming dose of humility.

Think Moses, King David, the Ba’al Shem Tov, and a more recent, visionary leader- Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, all of whom preferred to stay out of a public role and required a herculean effort to propel them into the leadership position they were destined to.

They understood the value of a quiet life.

They understood the value of small kindnesses, the ones that often don’t happen in a blaze of glory, but in the small moments.

Often when it’s hard.

Often when it hurts.

Often when it’s not really “my job.”

The mending of a broken heart, the patience and forbearance to a cantankerous relative…The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s kindness and comfort to a frightened child during a Russian Pogrom, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s paving of a path in the middle of a Russian snowy winter and then lovingly walking the small children to school, and Moses’ and David’s care as young shepherds to every stray sheep, with just G-d and the heavens to witness their dedication.

These little acts are ultimately the big ones that touch lives and make our world a better, kinder place.

That said…with all of the challenges and complexities of fame…there is a great need for competent, capable, public leaders.

We need all types of souls in this world!

We certainly need wise men and women whose voices are heard and heeded by the masses.

But with all the buzz these days about authentic leadership, let’s not forget the value that G-d cherishes of a quiet leadership, of acts that go unseen.

Be a leader and do an act of goodness and kindness today. And maybe the next day and then the next day.

About the Author
Rebbetzin Shula Bryski is co-director of Chabad of Thousand Oaks and owns a business at