Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Source of Leadership

Great leaders can move mountains...or at least, masses of people. Ezra the Scribe was just such a leader, and it was his charisma and wisdom that inspired the Jews to leave their Babylonian exile and return to the land of Israel.

Many of the Jews living in Babylon had grown complacent in their exile. Ezra, however, was the student of Baruch ben Neriah, the man who had been the scribe and assistant to the Prophet Jeremiah in Jerusalem. As a living witness to history and a great scholar (and some say a prophet) in his own right, Baruch was an inspiring teacher. In fact, the Talmud (Megilla 16b) relates that “As long as Baruch ben Neriah was alive, Ezra did not leave him to go up [to Israel].”

The relationship of Ezra to Baruch and Baruch to Jeremiah is an important one for the Jews of every generation. Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers (1:6), encourages each Jew to “make for yourself a teacher/rabbi.” Ezra’s personal history demonstrates the significant impact that a teacher can have. Had Ezra learned with anyone other than the personal scribe of Jeremiah, perhaps he would not have had the strength to inspire so many people.

Ezra did far more than lead the Jews from one city to another. He oversaw the construction of the Second Temple. He also reinstated laws that had been forgotten in the exile, and created new customs (such as calling three people to read the Torah on Mondays and Thursdays). He was such a great leader that it was said of him “Ezra was worthy of [bringing] the Torah to Israel, had Moses not preceded him” (Sanhedrin 21b).

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