Appreciating our leaders


Whatever our political persuasions and whichever candidates we may favor, it has been hard not to be impressed this summer hearing from many talented leaders who have devoted their lives to public service at the local, state, and national levels. The adulation of political conventions notwithstanding, we know that being a leader is mostly a thankless task. History teaches us that no matter the margin of victory, presidential popularity ratings quickly dive below 50% as citizens project all of the failings of our country, which are many, onto its most visible leader, while at the same time failing to give them any credit for the good that they do. And as we see in the Torah, particularly in the Book of Numbers that we have been reading this summer, blaming leaders for all that is bad and forgetting their role in all that is good is an ancient pattern. Moses mostly endures these trials of leadership with humility and grace, though even he has moments of anger, frustration, and despair. The Torah goes out of its way to remind us that leaders are human beings, with all of their strengths and all of their flaws. When we judge them, we must balance our disappointment in their weaknesses with our appreciation of their strengths and their willingness to serve us. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya teaches, “Judge each person favorably” (Pirkei Avot 1:6), and this applies all the more so to those who find the courage and energy to enter the bruising field of political leadership. Amid all the rancor and criticism of a political campaign, may we remember the respect that we owe to those in public service and the hope that we can all be partners in moving our country forward.