Rav Kook Torah

VaYakheil: Choosing a Leader


Betzalel’s Appointment

God informed Moses of Betzalel’s appointment to oversee the construction of the Tabernacle, and Moses subsequently apprised the people. According to the Midrash (Berachot 55a), however, this was not just a perfunctory notification.

“God asked, ‘Moses, is Betzalel acceptable to you?'
‘Master of the world,’ exclaimed Moses, ‘if he is acceptable to You, then certainly he is acceptable to me!’
‘Nevertheless, I want you to speak with the people.’

“So Moses went to the people, and asked them, ‘Is Betzalel acceptable to you?'
‘If he is acceptable to God and to you,’ responded the people, ‘then certainly he is acceptable to us!’

The Sages learned from this story a lesson in public appointments — one should seek the people’s approval before assigning a leader. Still, it seems superfluous for God Himself to consult with Moses and the people. Certainly God knows who is best qualified to organize the Tabernacle construction; why bother consulting with Moses and the people? Was this just a formality, out of politeness?

Three Qualifications for a Leader

A great leader must possess three qualities. These qualities differ in relative importance and the ease by which they may be recognized.

The first trait of leadership is integrity and purity of soul. This is an inner quality, only fully revealed to the One Who examines innermost thoughts and feelings. It is also the key trait of true leadership.

The second quality sought in a leader is the wisdom needed to successfully guide the people. This quality is recognizable to people — but not to all people. Only the astute can accurately gauge a leader’s sagacity. While not as crucial as the trait of personal integrity, an administrator cannot successfully lead the people without good judgment and political acumen.

The final quality that marks a successful leader consists of external talents apparent to all, such as charisma and eloquence. While these qualities are less important that the previous two, they certainly contribute to a leader’s popularity and effectiveness.

The order is, of course, important. Candidates who excel only in the superficial qualifications make poor and even corrupt leaders. Good leadership is based on honesty and integrity. Upon these traits, the other two levels, political acumen and charisma, are built.

The Midrash about Betzalel reflects this prioritization. First, God affirmed Betzalel’s qualifications in terms of those inner qualities that only God can truly know. While critical, these traits of integrity and purity are not sufficient. Therefore, He consulted with a wise leader — Moses — whether Betzalel also qualified in terms of the political wisdom necessary for the position. And finally, the people were consulted whether Betzalel met the qualifications that they sought in a popular leader.

(Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 166-167. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 262)

Illustration image: ‘Old Craftsman’ (Adriaen Brouwer, 1630s)