By Michael Lawrence
Timing is everything. We can never slow time down nor turn back the clock.
With a global pandemic still (re)appearing behind new and revisited corners of the world, as industries, the job market, economies, organizational budgets and family savings are being ravished, having the right leaders (and leaders in place at all) at the right time – this time – is proving to be critical.
This is not the time to be fumbling in the dark for that snooze button as alarms sound very much as a wake-up call.
As people, families, businesses and communities continue to tiptoe hesitantly, navigating the barely believable reality of 2020, nonprofit organizations need to ensure they have leaders of people, policy and best practice and leaders in innovation and patience in place to steer the ship away from ever larger, sharper rocks, sometimes almost unidentifiable in what has become a thick fog.
How should one recruit for our C-suite and senior professional leadership at a time when your valuable staff, your Board, your partners, donors and beneficiaries are looking for someone they can depend upon, and someone to keep the compass pointing north?
Comes the Torah portion this week of course to guide us perhaps through stormy waters. We find the Children of Israel right at that very time (and this very Shabbat in the Torah) also in unchartered territory as such. New leader appointed in Joshua as Moses prepares to depart the scene, but there is recognition this week already that the nation will, in the future, desire a king.
The Torah predicts their motivation for a king – “like all the nations that are around me.” (Deuteronomy 17:15). That is not enough for the classic Jewish commentators. Like a parent to a child, we are not going to buy this or that or do this or that just because the neighbors choose to.
If we are appointing a leader, a king, says Parashat Shoftim this Shabbat, there must be more to it. Candidates must fulfill basic requirements.
“Only he shall not have too many horses for himself… he shall not have too many wives, so that his heart not turn astray… he shall not greatly increase silver and gold for himself.” (17:16-17)
Kings and all kinds of leaders are prone at times to excessive tendencies. To making their role, their position and status all about them. It’s about their control – of people and decision-making – about their success, their influence and their prominence.
Says the Torah – absolutely not. Restrictions must be in place to ensure that a king leads more than just himself to better days, glory days, success, safety and security.
The Torah this week lays down an interesting challenge: “It shall be that when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write himself two copies of this Torah in a book… It shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life…” (17:18)
Rashi, the famous commentator on Torah, comes and seals the message. What does he say the king would do with two copies of Torah? One copy is kept in the treasury and the other with him at all times.
As public and as profound as your position may be or appear to be, as bulging as your personal or organizations coffers may be or become, you are a servant of the Jewish people, of tradition, of a nation and a country (Israel or any other where you base yourself or your activities) and your obligations are there first and foremost.
It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about a mission, a tradition, a collective memory, a community and a way of life that has been passed down to you.
Every Jewish leader chooses his or her way of Jewish practice but when it comes to leading a community, a people or having hundreds, thousands, millions invest their trust, hope, philanthropy, livelihoods and futures in you – and here, the “their” I speak of is everyone involved in the lifecycle of a nonprofit organization – you are bound to act, design, build and implement with the good of others, the nation and the organization in mind only.
And if we needed to be sure, this section of the Torah portion this week on kingship and leadership ends unmistakably with “so that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren.” (Deuteronomy 15:20)
Humility the Torah demands. Be humble as you rise to positions of power and authority.
Emphasizes Rabbi YY Jacobson in his study of the well-known Jewish philosopher and scholar Maimonidies (Rambam) on this very Torah portion and kingship, if you become a servant to your people, then and only then you will be deserving for them to serve you as king.
Says Rambam on kingship, while people should honor and respect the king, the Torah commands the king to stay humble in his heart, devoid of arrogance. He should not behave in a pompous or arrogant way. He should be graceful and respectful to even “the smallest people”, care for their welfare and needs. He should speak in a soft fashion to the people. He should learn from Moses how a king ought to behave.
For his humility, Moses was so highly praised and eternally treasured.
As we examine our own organizations and communities, as we explore options for new leadership and set executive recruitment experts to work on the quest at hand, we would do well to recall the tradition and in launching an executive search for those who will sit in the hot seat during these less predictable days, ensure they are setting a course for us all that reflects the values highlighted in this weeks Parasha and in the tradition passed down through the generations in the hope for safer, better futures for everyone.
Michael Lawrence has been Financial Resource Development Unit Head and Chief Development Officer at The Jewish Agency for Israel since 2016. He is a qualified lawyer in Israel and in his native New Zealand and has lived in Israel since 2000.
He is the author of “Nonprofit Parasha” a weekly look at Philanthropy, Leadership and Community in the Torah portion.