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Models of Leadership (Vayechi – 12/18/21)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Models of Leadership
Greatness comes in many shapes and sizes. While it’s hard to define, we all know it when we see it. Jacob recognizes exceptional potential in both of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe. As Jacob blesses them on his deathbed, he should place his right hand (the stronger one) on the firstborn (Menashe) and his left on the younger child. Jacob, however, reverses the process. Joseph protests, but Jacob replies (Genesis 28: 19-20):
“I know, my son, I know; he too will become a people, and he too will be great. But his younger brother will be greater than he, and his children’s fame will fill the world.” So, he blessed them on that day, saying, “With you, Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe,’ ” and he placed Ephraim before Manasseh.
Why is Ephraim given the more potent blessing? Because world-class leaders will descend from him: Joshua, Moses’ disciple and the conqueror of Canaan, and the powerful kings of the Northern Tribes of Israel, Yeravam, and Achav.
Menashe’s claim to fame rests on the laurels of the unforeseen hero, Gideon.
Gideon’s story gives us an alternative version of greatness, one that deserves mention (Judges Chapters 6-8).
About 180 years after Joshua’s conquest of the land, “The hand of Midian (neighboring country to the southeast) prevailed against Israel. And it was, when Israel had sown, that Midian and her allies would attack. And they would destroy the produce of the earth, leaving no sustenance in Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor donkey.”
The Jewish people turn to God, crying for deliverance, and they are answered by an angel appearing to Gideon in the guise of a man, “The Lord is with you, mighty man of valor.”
Gideon replies, “Please my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this befallen us? And where are all His wonders which our forefathers told us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us, and He has delivered us into the hand of Midian.”
God then spoke, saying, “Go, with this your strength, and save Israel from the hand of Midian, for I am sending you!”
And he said to Him, “Please O Lord, with what shall I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the poorest in Menashe, and I am the youngest in my father’s household.”
And God said to him, “Because I shall be with you, and you shall strike Midian as one man.”
And he said to Him, “If I have now found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is You that speaks with me.”
Gideon has faith, he’s a believer, but he’s also terribly insecure. He will indeed rally Israel to victory with just three hundred men. But along the way, he’ll beg God for a sign, for surety, three more times.
Leaders come in all levels of confidence. Moses begins with a bang, avenging the torture of a fellow Israelite by killing an Egyptian taskmaster. David is enflamed by Goliath’s constant degradation of the Jewish people and our God – with just a slingshot, he reaps vengeance. Judah Maccabee charges into the Syrian Greek ranks, never questioning his mission.
And then you have the Gideons of the world. People who believe in the need for change and want to be part of it but are hesitant and apprehensive. Gideon asks God for a sign. Like the lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” he’s seeking courage. God answers him patiently, encouragingly.
The world needs leaders. Some are seemingly born brave, and others are hesitant, forced to rise to the occasion. Gideon’s model tells us that we don’t all have to feel like natural leaders. It’s ok to be scared, even reluctant, for God will have our back. Jacob was correct when he foresaw greatness in both his grandsons-the two types of leaders we need today.

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