Yael Eckstein | November 24, 2021
Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again. — Genesis 38:26
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayeshev, which means “and he lived,” from Genesis 37:1—40:23.
What makes a great leader? Obviously, vision and decisiveness are important, but what are the traits that we would like to see, that we need to see, from our leaders? If we think about the great leaders in the Bible, we see one trait that stands out is something we don’t usually associate with leaders, especially political leaders. That trait is humility.
The Bible describes Moses as “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Abraham said of himself, “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). Humility is an important trait for leaders because it makes our leaders more likable and willing to hear the opinions of others. But even more important, humility is important for leaders because it leads to one of the most important traits of great leadership, political or otherwise, namely, accountability.
If our leaders are too arrogant to admit their own errors, they avoid accountability for their actions. This leads to abuses of power, cover-ups, and more bad decisions due to an unwillingness to take responsibility.
In this week’s Torah portion, we witness a remarkable display of humility and accountability by Judah. Judah later became the leader of the sons of Jacob and the patriarch of the line of David, the royalty of Israel.
When Judah was publicly confronted by the evidence that he was the one who had fathered Tamar’s children, he could have denied it. No one else present knew that the objects Tamar displayed belonged to Judah. But Judah admitted his wrongdoing publicly. He acknowledged that he, rather than Tamar, was responsible. Judah took responsibility not only for what he did with Tamar, but for his role creating Tamar’s difficult situation.
By publicly declaring, “She is more righteous than I,” Judah showed a remarkable display of humility and accountability — righteous leadership — that would merit him becoming the patriarch of royalty.
Let us humbly take responsibility for all that we do. And join me today in praying for humble leaders like Judah.