Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi Ephraim MirvisEliran Aharon

A surprising ingredient for outstanding leadership – this is what we discover in Parshat Shemini.

Aaron had been appointed as the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest of the nation. And now, the moment came for him to offer his opening sacrifice, and yet Moshe needed to say to Aharon (Vayikra 9:7), “Krav el hamizbeach,” – “Approach the altar.”

Rashi on Vayikra 9:7 explains that Moshe was saying to Aaron, “Lama ata vosh? Lechach nivcharta,” – “Why are you withdrawing yourself? It is for this that you were chosen.”

The Baal Shem Tov gives a beautiful peirush here. He says that Aharon wasfilled with humility and that’s why he would have preferred it if somebody else would have taken on this role, in the same way as he loved the fact that his younger brother Moshe became the leader of the nation.

Moshe therefore said to his brother Aaron, “Lechach nivcharta,” – “It’s on account of your humility that you are becoming the Kohen Gadol.”

The Talmud Yerushalmi tells us a fascinating story about the people of Simonia in the northern Galilee. They approached Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi in the third century and they explained that they were an important community, and asked if he could please provide an outstanding rabbi for them. Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi said, “I’ve got just the right person for you. His name is Levi Bar Sisi.”

Levi bar Sisi arrived in Simonia. They created a large bimah, a platform, upon which they seated him on a throne. The people came and they fired questions at him – questions in halakha, questions in Tanach – and he was stunned. He didn’t know how to answer a single question! The people went back to Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi and said, “The man you sent us – he’s a fake! He’s a dud! What happened?”

Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi said, “But at the very least, he’s as great as I am!” Indeed, we know that Levi bar Sisi assisted Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi in compiling the Mishnah! So Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi turned to Levi bar Sisi and asked him what had happened.

“Well,” said Levi bar Sisi, “They made a king out of me, it went to my head and I forgot everything!”

The Talmud here wants us to know that sometimes arrogance can be an impediment to outstanding leadership. Rather we should have the qualities of Aaron the High Priest, who was filled with humility.

Indeed, sometimes we notice how a person who promotes himself or herself, somebody who’s arrogant, can end up attaining a position of power, authority and leadership. Actually from the Torah we learn that the most outstanding ingredient for great leadership is the humility of Aharon the High Priest.

Shabbat shalom.