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    Politics & the art of leadership – D’varim

    Policy speeches are part of politics. “Elect me and I will do this for you, and this, and this, and this…” – that’s what they all say in the lead-up to an election, and the media hype builds up the excitement, and we think that at last someone is going to tackle the really big and important issues

    But, as they used to say in London, “After the Lord Mayor’s Show comes the dustman”. Once the election is over the politicians (some of them at least) are stricken with the disease called selective amnesia, and the promises (some of them at least) end up in the dustbin.

    Now no-one is going to argue against election manifestos and policy speeches. You need to know what a candidate for office thinks the country needs and believes him- or herself capable of achieving, even if you know from past experience not to expect it all to happen. But there is an important element that tends not to get mentioned at all. That is the candidate’s own character and reliability.

    Yes, King Solomon says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (Prov. 27:2), and if you are a person of integrity it is better that this be confirmed by others and not by your own mouth. But whoever says it, it is important that the public know what sort of person a leader really is.

    Which is where we find a remarkable definition in the Torah. Moses says, “Get you, from each of your tribes, wise, discerning, knowledgeable men, and I will make them heads over you” (Deut. 1:13). His father-in-law Jethro had long before said a similar thing: “You shall provide out of the people able men, who fear God; men of truth, hating unjust gain” (Ex. 18:21).

    Seven criteria altogether – in the order in which they come in the text, ability, piety, truth, honesty, wisdom, discernment and knowledge.

    Unrealistic? A mere dream? To some extent yes. The sages say that Moses himself found it difficult to identify enough potential leaders who possessed all seven qualifications, which is why he says, “I took the heads of your tribes, wise, knowledgeable men…” (Deut. 1:15).

    But though neither Moses or any other generation may find it easy to identify ideal leaders, we have to keep looking and to be as insistent, demanding and optimistic as possible.

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