The Shepherd

Rabbi Yaakov Reisman, the rav (spiritual leader) of Congregation Agudah of Far Rockaway Lawrence in New York gave his farewell address to his congregants after 30 years.

His message was the classic lesson for what constitutes the job of a leader, any leader. That is, to prepare for your successor.

It is said, that in fact, this is the only function of a leader.

Certainly, leaders are responsible for carrying out the mission, setting the vision, directing operations, meeting quarterly earnings.

In the case of a rav, his leadership immerses him in his congregants life transitions from births to death, setting a tone, serving as a role model, and growing his community both vertically and horizontally.

Rabbi Reisman, speaking to an overflowing audience of his followers, similar to a beloved CEO addressing his employees upon his retirement, laid bare two primary characteristics they should seek out in his successor, their new leader, that of humility and  empathy.

His humility was borne out in his opening comment. “All the respect I get belongs to you my congregants.

Why?

“Because before I became your rav I didn’t get any respect”.

It evoked a good laugh. He meant it as a sincere compliment to his congregants and community.

Humility.

A recognition that a leaders true success emanates only through the people he leads.

This was followed with his dictum, “No one cares how much you know, they only want to know how much you care.”

Empathy.

Rabbi Reisman invoked the lessons of great Jewish leaders to demonstrate his point.

Moses’ journey prior to his becoming Prince and leader of the Jewish people brought him to to a well in the desert.  There, the daughters of Yisro (Jethro) his future father in law, were waiting to water their herd prevented from doing so by a group of marauders.

Moses, chased them away enabling the shepherds to water their flock.

Forty years later at the end of his life as the Jewish nation was about to enter the land of Israel, Moses undeniably the greatest leader of all time — lo kam ish k’Moshe Rabeinu, no other man has risen equivalent to Moses — with humility and empathy asked ‘his flock’ to give their unequivocal support to Joshua their new leader.

After 30 years of leading his congregation Rabbi Reisman was entitled even deserving to revel in his accomplishments. He would be right to name names, milestones of yesteryear and yesterday. Yet, his farewell speech was all about his people. This was not a speech bidding farewell. He was encouraging continued growth and strength.

As he said in his opening remarks, all the respect he received came because of the countless people he touched and were touched by him.

With additional examples of how King David cared for his herd of sheep, and how Joseph sought to help two despondent men in jail the wine steward and the baker, Rabbi Reisman, the shepherd, cared for his flock on the last day of his 30 years much the same way as his first day, with humility, and empathy. And the most difficult task of all, to advise the people he loves how to seek out his successor to lead them.

Nothing that I write here in summarizing his own words can capture the essence of a man who has devoted his life his love to his people as their leader their guide.

True leaders learn from other leaders.

Being a successful shepherd today is no easy task.

About the Author
David Mandel is Chief Executive Officer of OHEL Children's Home and Family Services in New York
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