Vision and Lead­er­ship: Reflec­tions on Joseph and Moses

Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik; David Shatz, Joel Wolow­el­sky, Reuven Ziegler, ed.
  • Review
By – January 24, 2013

Vision and Lead­er­ship is the eleventh in the series of MeOtzar HoRav: Select­ed Writ­ings of Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik that have been pub­lished since 2002. Rav Soloveitchik is often referred to as one of the most pro­found Jew­ish thinkers and exposi­tors of halacha of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. The lat­est vol­ume par­al­lels most close­ly 2008’s Abraham’s Jour­ney, with the author focus­ing on inter­pret­ing and devel­op­ing the ideas and con­cepts asso­ci­at­ed with sem­i­nal bib­li­cal per­son­al­i­ties. The major­i­ty of Vision and Lead­er­ship is devot­ed to Moses, with only one third of the book dis­cussing Joseph’s life. Some of the indi­vid­ual chap­ters are devot­ed to close read­ing of bib­li­cal pas­sages con­sist­ing of explain­ing par­tic­u­lar words and phras­es, while oth­ers are inte­grat­ed philo­soph­i­cal and the­o­log­i­cal treat­ments of inci­dents in Joseph’s and Moses’s lives.

Rav Soloveitchik’s incred­i­bly cre­ative and insight­ful por­tray­als of bib­li­cal per­son­al­i­ties, the events of their lives, and the applic­a­bil­i­ty of these ideas to the con­tem­po­rary read­er, pro­vides a great deal of fresh and pro­found food for thought even for those who view them­selves as deeply famil­iar with Joseph and Moses. A leit­mo­tif for which the Rav is well-known is the explo­ration and appli­ca­tion of the con­cept of Hegel’s con­cep­tion of the dialec­tic”, i.e., the inter­sec­tion of a the­sis with an antithe­sis to pro­duce a syn­the­sis, and Vision and Lead­er­ship offers numer­ous exam­ples of how this idea lies at the heart of bib­li­cal sit­u­a­tions and Jew­ish approach­es to life. Exam­ples of dialec­ti­cal dis­cus­sions in the book include: a) con­fronting evil in order to appre­ci­ate the good; b) dream­ing vs. prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tion; c) dig­ni­ty of man vs. the need for sac­ri­fi­cial action; d) clear under­stand­ing vs. con­fu­sion and mys­tery; and e) holi­ness deriv­ing from the cho­sen com­mu­ni­ty vs. the unique­ness of every individual. 

Top­ics that are devel­oped more exten­sive­ly by the Rav include: a) a com­par­i­son of sec­u­lar legal sys­tems with the Torah’s approach to judg­ing; b) the doc­trine of assign­ment,” i.e., how each indi­vid­ual has a par­tic­u­lar pur­pose to ful­fill; and c) a com­par­i­son of Aris­totelian and mod­ern con­cep­tions of sci­ence, and their rel­e­vance to the Halachic method.

In order to illus­trate many of his points, R. Soloveitchik draws from per­son­al expe­ri­ence, recall­ing the les­son of an impact­ful teacher, his grand­fa­ther R. Chaim’s way of deal­ing with peo­ple, and aspects of his own per­son­al­i­ty which he strug­gled to overcome. 

Final­ly, the Rav pith­ily for­mu­lates his ap­proach regard­ing how even the most tradition­al Jew must engage with the greater world: We demand of man com­plete involve­ment in all world­ly affairs. We equate with­draw­al from the world and soci­ety with cow­ardice and warn against it. Our phi­los­o­phy preach­es activism, aggres­sive­ness and articulateness…” 

Although many of these pre­sen­ta­tions date from over half a cen­tu­ry ago, the fresh­ness, depth, and vital­i­ty of the thought are invig­o­rat­ing and inspir­ing, well worth the time and effort of the read­er. Index of Bib­li­cal and Rab­binic Sources, Index of Top­ics and Names.

Yaakov (Jack) Biel­er was the found­ing Rab­bi of the Kemp Mill Syn­a­gogue in Sil­ver Spring, MD until his retire­ment in 2015. He has been asso­ci­at­ed with Jew­ish day school edu­ca­tion for over thir­ty years. R. Biel­er served as a men­tor for the Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty Look­stein Cen­ter Prin­ci­pals’ Sem­i­nar and he has pub­lished and lec­tured exten­sive­ly on the phi­los­o­phy of Mod­ern Ortho­dox education.

Discussion Questions