Lessons in Lead­er­ship: A Week­ly Read­ing of the Jew­ish Bible

Rab­bi Jonathan Sacks; Ronald Heifetz, fwd.
  • Review
By – March 31, 2016

Rab­bi Jonathan Sacks has had a long and dis­tin­guished career in the rab­binate — he recent­ly retired from the posi­tion of Chief Rab­bi of the Unit­ed Hebrew Con­gre­ga­tions of the Unit­ed King­dom — and has shown him­self to be an artic­u­late and con­sum­mate speak­er and writer about Judaism and Jew­ish ideas. He has authored over two dozen books as well as a par­tic­u­lar­ly well-received series has been the Covenant and Con­ver­sa­tion” essays based on the week­ly Torah por­tion that are now being pub­lished in book form. Where­as these essays have focused on var­ied themes and ideas, Lessons in Lead­er­ship, also arranged accord­ing to the order of the tra­di­tion­al pub­lic Torah read­ings, looks upon the con­tents of Scrip­ture through the lens of search­ing for lessons and themes of lead­er­ship. The book’s essays for the most part are inde­pen­dent of one anoth­er, and there­fore the rel­e­vant por­tion can mean­ing­ful­ly read week by week.

In his intro­duc­tion to this book, Rab­bi Sacks notes that an ear­ly point dur­ing his time as Chief Rab­bi, upon being con­front­ed with var­i­ous chal­lenges he and his staff would sit and study Torah togeth­er, search­ing in appro­pri­ate texts for ways to address the prob­lems that they were fac­ing. There­fore at least some of the dis­cus­sions in this book reflect more than the the­o­ret­i­cal mus­ings of a pro­found con­tem­po­rary rab­binic fig­ure, but rather the applied prod­ucts of sig­nif­i­cant chevru­ta (study part­ner) inter­ac­tions between him­self and his staff, as they togeth­er attempt­ed to ascer­tain what the Torah’s guid­ance might be regard­ing their com­mu­nal and pro­fes­sion­al dilemmas.

The intro­duc­tion also notes that Rab­bi Sacks thinks of this book as a belat­ed thank you” to Rab­bi Men­achem Mendel Schneer­son, who, he explains, set him on the road to a career in the rab­binate when they met short­ly after the Six-Day War, while Rab­bi Sacks was still at uni­ver­si­ty. Upon lis­ten­ing to the young student’s descrip­tion of the prob­lems affect­ing Jew­ish life at Cam­bridge, the Rebbe said to him If these are prob­lems that are con­cern­ing you, it is your oblig­a­tion to try to do some­thing about them.”

Rab­bi Sacks’ approach in these essays is famil­iar to those acquaint­ed with his oth­er works. Aside from the very spe­cif­ic lead­er­ship lessons that are derived from the var­i­ous Parash­iot, a par­tic­u­lar­ly strik­ing aspect of his pre­sen­ta­tions is the rich array of sources and exam­ples from which he draws as he devel­ops his ideas. Rab­bi Sacks does not con­fine him­self to only major Jew­ish fig­ures, but includes per­son­al­i­ties from the world of pol­i­tics, art, acad­e­mia, his­to­ry and busi­ness. In addi­tion, his pre­sen­ta­tions are pep­pered with the wis­dom of var­i­ous lead­er­ship experts, one of whom, Pro­fes­sor Heifetz, con­tributes an engag­ing for­ward to the book. A par­tic­u­lar­ly intrigu­ing dis­tinc­tion that the author makes a num­ber of times is between tech­ni­cal” and adap­tive” lead­er­ship: the for­mer involves the logis­tics of pro­vid­ing for the needs of one’s fol­low­ers; the lat­ter con­cerns how to change people’s atti­tudes and desires. Rab­bi Sacks repeat­ed­ly states that while there may be no sub­sti­tute for being a tech­ni­cal” leader, the true chal­lenge of lead­er­ship con­fronting the per­son­al­i­ties of the Bible involves learn­ing how to be an adap­tive leader.

Relat­ed Content:

Jack Biel­er is Rab­bi of Kemp Mill Syn­a­gogue in Sil­ver Spring, MD. He was a stu­dent of Rab­bi Riskin at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty and fac­ul­ty mem­ber of the Joseph Shapiro Insti­tute of Jew­ish Stud­ies. Sub­se­quent­ly, he was Chair­man of the Tal­mud Depart­ment of Yeshi­v­at Ramaz and per­ma­nent Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at Con­gre­ga­tion Kehi­lath Jeshurun.He has pub­lished and lec­tured exten­sive­ly on the phi­los­o­phy of Mod­ern Ortho­dox education.

Discussion Questions