Last night, my teacher said, “We choose leaders who are willing to pull the trigger. We want people who will not hesitate, who will do what needs to be done.” That desire for a ‘Strong Man’ has helped many a leader be elected.
Maybe it’s what we want, but it’s not all we need.
In a few days I will be training a group of student leaders in Eastern Europe. Leadership is the message. Along with public speaking training, I’ll be aiming and firing at a trigger-free interpretation of leadership.
This week in synagogues, or at home on couches, the story of a test will be read. Abraham wants a wife for his son, Isaac, and a matriarch for the Jewish people. He sends his servant Eliezer to find the right woman, with ten camels and few instructions. En route, Eliezer devises a test to help him choose someone for his master’s son.
He will ask a woman for water. If she not only gives him water but also offers it to his camels, she will be the one. Why? Because he is looking for someone with empathy. The capacity to see the needs of others – even those who cannot express those needs for themselves – is critical for the person who will be at the helm. She sees the needs of others, even the needs of animals. Rebecca passes the test with multiple jugs of water and a great deal of leg work.
Eli-boy could have asked about her in the ‘hood. What he did was better – because ‘in situ’, in action, she showed him her true colors. She demonstrated compassion and empathy.
Why was this the chief quality he sought for his master’s son? Why would this make her worthy of being a matriarch, of being leadership material?
Daniel Sissman reviews Ora Prouser as she builds a case for Isaac’s mental disability: “He is born to older parents, who are close relatives. His mother, Sarah, uses her ferocious maternal attempts to shield Isaac from pain and trouble, he is passive (during the akeidah), and passive when it came to marriage. This may also account for how he was so easily tricked by Jacob over the blessing.”
That’s why. People with special needs need people who are especially caring. They need compassionate people like Rebecca to care for them. There’s a connection between the micro and the macro, between caring for the individual and caring for the nation.
Later on, Rebecca ensures that the caring son, Jacob, gets Isaac’s blessing rather than Esau. She ‘bends the arc of the moral universe towards justice’, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr. When Trump mocked a reporter for his physical disability at one of his rallies, I did not feel a sense of moral justice on any arc at all.
Also on the agenda of this training seminar is team building/group dynamics. In informal education, acknowledging and affirming the value of difference is essential. It is the only way everyone has a place in the group. For that to work, you need leaders who set this as a goal – who want to make others feel welcome, heard, safe – even loved. It doesn’t happen by itself. It requires acting on our higher values. All the Isaacs of this world, all the Isaac in us, in all our glorious God-given difference and dis/ability, all of us deserve an equal share of water from the well.
Trump, meet Rebekah. Less trigger finger, more compassion.