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Rabbi Kalmar's Sermon - Parshat Eikev - Aug/ 7 / 8, 2020

“How to Be a True Leader”


When you ask people what makes a good leader, the responses one might normally get would be: Someone who inspires, someone who has influence, someone who has integrity, courage, empathy, power, charisma, confidence, ability to delegate, a great speaker, a force, a winner.


The book of Devarim is Moshe’s swan song sermon.  His last chance to impart to the Jewish people what he would like to see from them. And to a certain degree is it his chance to tell them what to do when he is gone – when he is no longer the leader who has brought them through so much. 


To tell them – how to go out and be leaders.


וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן – and it shall be because you listen


The secret to leadership, says Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, is the ability to listen.


The verb שמע – to listen, hear, understand, is fundamental to Judaism and to the book of Devarim.  In last week’s parsha we read the most fundamental statement in Judaism which is the first thing every Jewish child learns and it is to be on our lips when we pass from this world – the Shema Yisrael.   We see it again in this week’s parsha at the end, the second part of shema where it says – אם שמע תשמעו  If you will surely listen – then all the blessings will come.  The verb is mentioned 92 times in the book of Devarim.  


The Jewish people’s acceptance of the Torah comes with the famous phrase – Naaseh ViNIshma – we shall do and we shall listen.  The idea of listening to God is so central to who we are.   When Moshe was picked as a leader – all we knew about him was that he heard the pain of his people, of a fellow Jew, of the daughters of Yisro, and presumably his sheep.  Moshe was not a great speaker, but he was a great listener and that made him a great leader.


Rabbi Sacks writes that “Viktor Frankl, who survived Auschwitz and went on to create a new form of psychotherapy based on "man's search for meaning," once told the story of a patient of his who phoned him in the middle of the night to tell him, calmly, that she was about to commit suicide. He kept her on the phone for two hours, giving her every conceivable reason to live. Eventually she said that she had changed her mind and would not end her life. When he next saw the woman he asked her which of his many reasons had persuaded her to change her mind. "None," she replied. "Why then did you decide not to commit suicide?" She replied that the fact that someone was prepared to listen to her for two hours in the middle of the night convinced her that life was worth living after all.”


When Shlomo HaMelech becomes king, the Book of Kings tells us that God came to him in a dream and asked him what he wants.   Shlomo could have asked for anything in the world, any trait, any power, anything at all.  He asks for a לב שמע  - a listening heart to be able to judge the people.  And this pleased the Lord exceedingly.  The wisest man of all time – understood that the best trait he could get from God – would be to be able to be an excellent listener.


Rabbi Sacks relates that “The royal family in Britain is known always to arrive on time and depart on time.” He said he would never forget the occasion – “her aides told [him] that they had never witnessed it before - when the Queen stayed for two hours longer than her scheduled departure time. The day was 27 January 2005, the occasion, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The Queen had invited survivors to a reception at St James' Palace. Each had a story to tell, and the Queen took the time to listen to every one of them. One after another came up to Rabbi Sacks and said, "Sixty years ago I did not know whether tomorrow I would be alive, and here I am talking to the Queen." That act of listening was one of the most royal acts of graciousness he ever witnessed. Listening is a profound affirmation of the humanity of the other.


We are taught to listen to God – and it teaches us to listen.  We can then listen to the broken, the poor, the suffering, the anguished, the lonely.  We can listen to the other. 


In our current environment, it feels very hard to listen to the other.  What the other has to say is making us mad.  So rather than taking the time and the effort needed to listen – we shut our ears and our hearts and we turn away.  We don’t give the other a chance to be heard. 


A true leader knows what to do for others because the leader understands the others because the leader has listened to them.  We all have the ability to be leaders and we all have the ability to listen, to listen to God, to listen to our family members, to listen to our friends, and even yes, to listen to our enemies, or those whom we would perceive as the other. 


So may we listen to the wisdom of Shlomo and the ways of Moshe rabbeinu, and may we merit the promise which God promises in this week’s parsha – if you will listen then:


וַאֲהֵבְךָ, וּבֵרַכְךָ וְהִרְבֶּךָ

and He will love you, and bless you, and increase you

וְהֵסִיר ה מִמְּךָ, כָּל-חֹלִי

And He will remove from you all sickness



בָּרוּךְ תִּהְיֶה 

You shall be blessed.




Good Shabbos.

Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782