Humility in Leadership


This week’s Torah portion, Emor, begins by addressing the Israelite priests, the sons of Aaron, and giving them a long list of restrictions they must follow in their service of God and the people. This emphasizes a theme in the Torah: leadership is about service, sacrifice, and humility, not power, privilege, or pride. In the Kabbalistic counting of the Omer, we are contemplating the quality of Hod (literally, “splendor”) this week that is associated with Aaron. In the mystical tradition, Hod is the quality of yielding and flexibility. Like the palm tree bending nearly to the ground in the face of a strong wind, Aaron is willing and able to bow down before the people and before God, yielding to a force far greater than his human strength, however exalted his position. Jewish texts emphasize again and again that such an ability to yield and to humble oneself is the true measure of of a leader.

Unfortunately, we see little of that attitude toward leadership in our contemporary world, as politicians, business leaders, and others act in ways that are a far cry from the humility of Aaron. We must hold them to account, but we must not stop there. Instead, we must watch out for the same tendencies to valorize power, privilege, and pride over service in ourselves, whether in communal leadership, in our work, or in our families. May we all see the splendor and strength that come from yielding, from bending to forces and values that soar far beyond us and lead us toward something divine.