Dvar Torah - Vayeshev
There are different models of leadership in the world. Sometimes leadership is based on position, other times on charisma, sometimes on competence, and other times on other attributes, such as a willingness to forgive. Over the next few weeks we witness a drama of truly epic proportions where the children of Ya'akov engage in a prolonged struggle to decide which of them will be the leader, which of them will stand over the brothers.
The first one to engage is Yossef. Yossef tells his brothers that he has had two dreams where they will all bow down to him. Reinforcing his sense of superiority is the special multi-coloured coat that his father had given him, uniquely of his brothers. Yossef is the first born son of Rachel, Ya'akov favourite wife, and he seems to really believe that will entitle him to superiority over his brothers. Unfortunately, they react as you would expect and strongly reject his claims.
It is here that we find our second model of leadership. Yossef is sent by his father to his brothers while they are away from home shepherding the flocks. The brothers take the opportunity to rid themselves of this troublesome person. They think that they will kill him, but Yehuda and Reuven persuade them not to commit the act, instead eventually selling him into slavery. While between the two of them they saved his life, we see a profoundly flawed model. No matter what their grievance, they should have realized that this is not the way.
Next we encounter Yehuda living on his own. Yehuda engages two of his sons, one after the other, to marry Tamar. However, she is so beautiful that they want to prevent her from becoming pregnant. The brothers are struck down for the sin. Not knowing why they died, Yehuda condemns Tamar to perpetual widowhood rather than allowing her to marry his third son in a Levirate marriage. However, Tamar was not prepared for this and seduced Yehuda by pretending to be a prostitute in order to become pregnant. When Yehuda finds out, rather than condemn Tamar to cover his own shame, he acknowledges his mistakes. Both Yehuda and Tamar show what true leadership is, devotion to principle and unflinching honesty. even when you made a mistake. Yehuda and Tamar become the ancestors of the Davidic line of kings in reward for their actions.
Finally, Yossef in Egypt becomes very senior in his roles managing the households of his masters. He attains these positions because of (again) scrupulous honesty, as well as competence. Yossef shows that actually being good at the job is another crucial component of leadership.
In our age we have so many who claim to be leaders but so few who actually lead. Our parsha provides us with (at least) four models of what leadership can be, as well as some of the times that it does not work. The lessons about what makes an effective leader have never been more timely. Let us hope that we can learn them, again, for an easier year to come.