What True Leadership Looks Like

Yael Eckstein  |  December 2, 2021

IDF soldiers at Western Wall after 1967 Six-Day War
IDF soldiers at Western Wall after 1967 Six-Day War. Photo credit: AP Photo | David Rudinger GPO

I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. — Genesis 43:9

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Mikeitz, which means “at the end,” from Genesis 41:1–44:17.

In 1976, Israeli commandos rescued 102 Israeli hostages from a flight that had been hijacked by terrorists at the Entebbe International Airport in Uganda. The only casualty among the Israeli soldiers was Yoni Netanyahu, the commander of the unit carrying out this dangerous mission and elder brother to Benjamin Netanyahu, who served as Israel’s Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999, and from 2009 to 2021.

The fact that the only soldier who was killed was the commander is a constant reminder of a policy of the Israeli army that inspires me every time I think about it.

In most armies, the foot soldiers go into battle first, with the commanders bringing up the rear. But in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the commanders are first into battle, first into the line of fire. And if you’re wondering where the IDF got this policy from, the answer is the Bible.

In 1 Samuel 14, when Jonathan and a soldier who was under his command attacked the Philistines, Jonathan made sure to go first and instructed the soldier to follow him. This was a dangerous mission and rather than send this soldier ahead, Jonathan led the way. (Read 1 Samuel 14:12-13.)

What True Leadership Looks Like

Even for those of us who aren’t soldiers, this lesson is a powerful one. True leadership means that I am willing to risk my own well-being before risking that of others.

We see this lesson in this week’s Torah portion. To convince his father Jacob to allow Benjamin to accompany him and his brothers back to Egypt, Judah took responsibility, putting himself on the line for his brother. It was in this moment that Judah assumed the mantle of leadership that would be passed on to his descendants, David, and all the kings of Israel who followed.

The same Judah who came up with the plan to sell one brother — Joseph — into slavery now laid himself on the line for his brother Benjamin. In doing so, Judah displayed what true leadership looks like and what would become the legacy of Israeli soldiers to this very day.

Your Turn:

Who do you know that models true leadership? In what ways can you display true leadership in your circumstances?