What does it take to lead under Covid times – or indeed at any times?

What are key qualities that are needed by a Prime Minister or President, Chief Medical Officer or Head of NASA’s Mars Perseverance Team, home-schooling parent or community Rabbi?

Our mystical text, the Zohar, uncovers a key message from what is absent in this week’s parsha.

Moses enjoyed a privilege above all other prophets and sages in our history: G-d spoke directly to him. From the beginning of the book of Exodus to the end of the Torah, his name is mentioned in every sidra, with one exception: His name is missing in this week’s parsha. Yet, although Moses’ name is absent, the reading begins with G-d addressing him personally as ve’atah tetzaveh, “and you shall command” with the pronoun atah, ‘you’, standing alone as a separate word for emphasis, rather than just being incorporated into the usual verbal form tetzaveh, ‘you shall command.’

The Zohar points out that this peculiarity is employed three times more in our descriptions of the Tabernacle. In chapter 28:1, we read ve’atah hakrev elecha, ‘and you shall bring near to you.’ In chapter 28:3, we find ve’atah tedaber, ‘and you shall speak’ and finally, in chapter 30:23 of next week’s sidra, ve’atah kach lecha, ‘and you shall take for yourself.’

Four different verses about Moses. Each with that extra word, ve’atah: 

ve’atah tetzaveh, “and you shall command; 

ve’atah hakrev elecha, ‘and you shall bring near to you; 

ve’atah tedaber, ‘and you shall speak’; 

ve’atah kach lecha, ‘and you shall take for yourself.’

Here lies the hidden message of leadership. The Zohar explains that G-d is declaring Moses’ special qualities of leadership by addressing him in this way. The phrases can be seen to demonstrate the four styles that Moses was required to exercise when fulfilling his role as leader. Indeed, they apply to us all, whenever we exercise a leadership role. 

There are occasions when what is necessary is ve’atah tetzaveh, ‘you shall command’. A leader, fundamentally, is one who is entitled to give orders. He must be, at times, the Commander-in-Chief, issuing instructions for the benefit of his people or community.

Yet a Jewish leader cannot be a dictator, ruling only by fiat and decree. His role has to include ve’atah hakrev elecha, ‘and you shall bring close to you.’ It is vital that he is able to connect to his people, to gain their support. He must be able not only to command but also to be approachable. His ability to draw people into his confidence and to reach out with warmth is a crucial part of his role.

At other times, a key part of his function will be simply to address his people. This is no mean task. He needs to be able to express his message with clarity and conviction. He needs to be able to inspire when times are tough. Ve’atah tedaber, ‘and you shall speak’ is the dimension of leadership that demands the ability of effective and sometimes rousing communication. As John F Kennedy said of Winston Churchill: “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

Finally, there will be the occasions when what is required is ve’atah kach lecha, ‘you shall take for yourself.’ There will be times when the leader cannot delegate. The task will be to take personal control of the situation and become directly involved.

Four faces, then, of leadership, derived from G-d’s direct speech to Moses: to command, to connect, to communicate and to control.

The true challenge of a great leader is to know when to apply which role. When to be boss and when to bond. When to talk and when to keep quiet and get your hands dirty! Moses could do it. Can we follow his lead?