Part of the problem of leadership is that one who achieves position and
prominence is always held to a higher standard of behavior and
accomplishment than we ordinary humans. In this week’s parsha the Torah
sets out special and stringent rules for the descendants of Aharon, the
kohanim/priests of Israel.
Apparently with public privilege there are added responsibilities. Because
of this, the Torah describes and demands specific personal and public
behavior, actions and attitudes from kohanim. The prophet will later record
for us that “the lips of the kohein will guard knowledge and the people will
ask for Torah lessons from him for he is likened unto and angel of the Lord
To this verse the Talmud comments that “if he resembles an angel of the Lord
of hosts then the people should ask of him to teach them Torah. However, if
in his personal and public deportment he bears no resemblance whatsoever to
an angel of the Lord of hosts then the people should abstain from asking him
to teach them Torah.”
In the long history of the Jewish people, both in First and Second Temple
times there were righteous High Priests who resembled angels and there were
those who disgraced their exalted position by immoral and sinful behavior.
There were Saduccean High Priests who denied the very divinity of the office
that they occupied. And there were righteous High Priests, such as Shimon
HaTzadik, who proved to be the saviors of Israel in difficult and dangerous
times. To a great extent, the entire situation of Israel, favorable or
otherwise, depended on the High Priest and his attitudes and comportment.
It is interesting to note that the Torah in this week’s parsha lays down
many rules about the actions and behavior of the kohanim regarding their own
personal lives. Apparently, nowhere does the Torah deal with public policy
issues and the national direction in which the kohanim are to lead the
people of Israel.
The Torah assumes that people who behave in a holy and correct fashion in
their own personal lives will benefit from Divine intuition and aid when it
comes to making vital decisions about public policy for the Jewish people.
Shimon HaTzadik saved the Jewish commonwealth of his day from destruction by
Alexander the Great through successful and clever negotiation. The Tzadik
bested the Great in that encounter.
That is why throughout Tanach we find the leaders of Israel being judged not
so much by their public persona, policy decisions or by their wars and
victories and reverses, as much as by their private behavior and
interpersonal relationships and actions. In the blessings of the Haftorah
reading we state that the Lord gave us “good prophets” – people of personal
worth and integrity, of honesty and morality and correct Torah behavior.
Bad people are disqualified from being our true prophets. There are no
perfect people so there cannot be any perfect leaders either. Yet, the Torah
demands that the kohanim constantly strive for holiness and
self-improvement. It therefore prescribes a regimen of behavior in personal
life that will aid the kohein in that quest for holy self-fulfillment.
Rabbi Berel Wein