Honesty and Integrity in a Leader – World Mizrachi

By World Mizrachi Director-General, Rabbi Doron Perez

Winston Churchill, one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century made the following quip regarding democracy in a speech to the House of Commons in 1947: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The democratic form of government, more than any other, gives expression to the collective will of the people.  This is its greatest asset and its greatest shortcoming.  On the one hand, it is the great system of ‘the government of the people, by the people, and for the people’, in the famous words of Lincoln.  On the other hand, it often creates an unhealthy dependency on people.  The only way to be elected is to appeal to the broadest sweep of the general public, and this is only for a maximum of four to five years in most democratic countries, only to once again to enter into re-election campaigns nurturing ongoing dependency on the forever-changing whims of others.

To my mind, one of the greatest drawbacks of this system is that it creates, nurtures and encourages dishonesty and inauthentic leadership.  You simply have to tell people what they want to hear in order to be elected.  As there are so many different interest groups in any society with diametrically opposed views on a plethora of issues, one has to constantly speak in broad opaque terms, which by nature lend themselves to contradictory and fluctuating perspectives.  Popularity often precedes a desire for truth.  It is increasingly hard to have solid, unbending and truthful principles while at the same time appealing to the broadest possible voter base.  Many strong values based people are greatly challenged in the realm of leadership in general, and in the modern democratic era in particular.  There is much research today which highlights the point that politicians in the Western World are amongst the least trustworthy people in society.  A significant contributing factor, I believe, is the system itself.  It is the best we have, but it is far from perfect.

This is a great challenge, as perhaps the most important element in any human relationship – and certainly in leadership – is trust.  In order for us to trust a leader, we need to feel that they are authentic, honest and a person of integrity.  I believe that now more than ever the message at the beginning of Parashat Teruma of what Torah leadership is all about is absolutely critical if we are to rebuild our trust in leadership.

Our sages give a crucial insight into the fundamental quality in leadership on a seemingly redundant phrase in this week’s Parasha.  We learn in the beginning of the Parasha about the most important of the vessels which appeared in the Tabernacle and Temple, that of the ארון הקודש – the Holy Ark.  The Holy Ark of the Covenant was essentially the home of the tablets that Moses gave and the original Torah that he wrote.  These were housed on a permanent basis in the Holy Ark which stood as the only vessel placed in the קודש הקודשים – the Holy of Holies.

We read in Shemot (25) as follows:

“וְעָשׂוּ אֲרוֹן עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים אַמָּתַיִם וָחֵצִי אָרְכּוֹ וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי רָחְבּוֹ וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי קֹמָתוֹ: וְצִפִּיתָ אֹתוֹ זָהָב טָהוֹר מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ תְּצַפֶּנּוּ וְעָשִׂיתָ עָלָיו זֵר זָהָב סָבִיב”

“They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height.  And you shall cover it with pure gold; from inside and from outside you shall cover it, and you shall make upon it a golden crown all around.”

The Talmud (Masechet Yoma 72b) questions this verse as to the necessity to cover the wooden ark with gold both externally and internally.  An external cover is logical.  The gold adds honor and dignity to the external appearance of the ark, and indeed many other vessels, as appropriate in the House of G-d.  What we don’t understand, though, is what is the need to cover the inside of the ark, as the verse states, with gold as well.  This seems to be a waste of communal money – of gold which has been donated to the temple treasury.  Nobody will ever see this internal covering, and it seems to be redundant and wasteful.  From this the Talmud learns an indispensable lesson into what human character in general and leadership specifically are all about.

In the above Talmudic source, Rava states as follows:

“כל תלמיד חכם שאין תוכו כברו אינו תלמיד חכם”

“any Torah scholar whose inside is not as his outside is not a Torah scholar.”

Abaye, another great Talmudic sage, goes on to add in the name of Raba bar Ulah that he is considered מתעב – loathsome.

A Talmid Chacham, a Torah scholar, is supposed to be the example par excellence of Torah leadership.  He is a living example of how the values of the Torah should express themselves in human and Jewish life.  If the way he conducts himself on the outside is not a genuine reflection of his character on the inside, then he cannot be considered a genuine Torah scholar and leader.  The image he projects on the outside must be a mirror reflection of who he is and strives to be on the inside.

I believe our sages’ adversity to this quality of inauthenticity also explains the extreme view that the sages had towards the חזיר – the swine.  I find it quite remarkable that many Jewish people who regularly eat non-kosher meat are somehow strict when it comes to not eating pork.  What is it that makes the meat of the swine less kosher than other non-kosher meat?  There certainly isn’t any halachic difference.  While some point to the fact that the swine is a particularly dirty animal, spending much time in a mixture of mud and feces, there seems to be a much deeper reason.  Our sages say (Midrash Raba, Vayikra 13:5) that there is another quality regarding the swine that creates a moral stench.  As we all know, the pig is the only animal which has cloven hooves on the outside (this being a sign of a kosher animal), yet does not chew the cud on the inside (a sign of a non-kosher animal).  So to speak, the swine shows everybody on the outside that it is kosher, yet its external sign of kashrut does not match what it has on the inside – a lack of the other necessary internal sign of kashrut.

In the very same Midrash our rabbis are sharply critical of the culture of the Roman Empire and its leadership in particular, seeing them as disingenuous and lacking integrity.  The Midrash states, “[The swine] may be compared to a governor [of Rome] who put to death the thieves, adulterers and sorcerers.  He leaned over to his advisor and said, ‘I myself committed these three things in one night’”.

This mode of leadership is hypocritical.  The image and behavioral patterns on the outside simply do not match the qualities and character traits on the inside.  Amazingly, the English word ‘hypocrite’ comes from a Greek word literally meaning ‘actor’.  The actors of ancient Greece used to put on masks in order to assume a temporary role which was not really a reflection of who they are.  While this is most important for an actor, it is a terrible quality in a leader.  Integrity and trust is vital to leadership, and therefore the inside must reflect the outside.

Professor Stephen Covey offers an important insight (Everyday Greatness, p. 136) into the concept of integrity.  He says that in Mathematics, an integer is a number that is indivisible into fractions.  Just so, a man of integrity should not be divided against himself.  What he thinks, says and does should all be one.  He should not be in conflict with his own principles.  He continues to say that the word integrity basically means to be integrated around principles.  It means a wholeness, oneness and seamlessness.  Even the word ‘sincerity’ in Latin means ‘sin cero’ – without wax – no seams or compartments, all of one piece.

In the challenging times ahead, nurturing trust in our leadership couldn’t be more relevant.  Our Parasha – Parashat Teruma and the ארון הקודש offer a timeless and salient insight into the realm of leadership.  תוכו כברו – a need to nurture the qualities of honesty, sincerity and integrity, particularly in the Western democratic societies of today.

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