Leadership Means Making Space
Family Edition

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The Summary

This summary is adapted from this week’s main Covenant & Conversation essay by Rabbi Sacks.

Tetzaveh is the parsha in which Moshe is not mentioned by name at all. Instead the focus is on his brother Aharon, and on the role he came to occupy and personify: that of High Priest, the Kohen Gadol.

There are many reasons why the priesthood went to Aharon as opposed to Moshe. One reason given is that the Torah is teaching us that no one person or institution should hold all the power. All human authority needs checks and balances if it is not to become corrupt. In particular, political and religious leadership, keter malchut and keter kehunah, should always be separate. Moshe wore the crowns of political and prophetic leadership, Aharon that of the priesthood. The division allowed each to be a check on the other.

That is the theory. What is especially interesting is how this works out in terms of personal relationships, in this case between brothers, Moshe and Aharon. The Torah says relatively little about it, but the hints are fascinating.

At the beginning of the book of Shemot, God told Moshe that Aharon is “already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you.” These sound like simple words, but they are far from common. Moshe was Aharon’s younger brother, three years his junior. It would have been natural for Aharon to be at least a little envious that his younger brother was about to become the leader he was not destined to be – all the more so since Moshe had not spent his life among the people? Yet God says, “He will be glad to see you.”

Aharon’s ability to rejoice in his brother’s rise to greatness is particularly striking when set against the entire biblical history of the relationship between brothers thus far. It has been a set of variations on the theme of sibling rivalry: Kayin and Hevel, Yitzchak and Yishmael, Yaakov and Eisav, Yosef and his brothers.

But here comes the second test, not of Aharon but of Moshe. Moshe is now being commanded to create a form of leadership he will never be able to exercise, that of the priesthood, and the person he must award it to - is his elder brother.

Can he do so with the same generosity of spirit that his brother showed toward him? It turns out he can! So much so that the Torah emphasises God’s insistence that Moshe bestows this honour on Aharon.

Moshe must show the people – and Aharon himself – that he has the humility, the tzimtzum, the power of self-effacement needed to make space for someone else to share in the leadership of the people, someone whose strengths are not his, whose role is different from his, someone who may be more popular, closer to the people than he is – as Aharon turned out to be.

The historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells the story of how President Abraham Lincoln appointed to his cabinet the three men who had opposed him as a candidate for the Republican party leadership. William Henry Seward, who had been expected to win, eventually said of him: “His magnanimity is almost superhuman . . . the President is the best of us.”

It takes a unique character to make space for those one is entitled to see as rivals. Early on, Aharon showed that character in relation to Moshe, and now Moshe is called on to show it to Aharon.

True leadership involves humility and magnanimity. The smaller the ego, the greater the leader. That’s what Moshe showed in the parsha that does not mention his name.

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Around the Shabbat Table

  1. After learning about Moshe and Aharon, what qualities do you think make a good leader?
  2. What are some challenges that might arise from sibling rivalry, and how can they be overcome?
  3. Think of other sibling relationships in the Tanach. Can you find the positive and challenging dynamics from each pairing?
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Parsha in Passing

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God instructs Moshe to collect pure olive oil from Bnei Yisrael to fuel the eternal light of the Menorah, which Aharon is tasked with lighting daily from dusk until dawn.

Next, the priestly garb - the Bigdei Kehuna - is outlined. Every Kohen wore four garments:

1) the ketonet, a full-length tunic made of linen.

2) michnasayim, linen undergarments.

3) a linen headgear, known as mitznefet or migba’at.

4) the avnet, a lengthy sash tied around the waist.

Additionally, the Kohen Gadol wore four special items:

5) the efod, a decorative apron crafted from wool dyed in blue, purple, and red, as well as linen and gold.

6) the choshen, a breastplate adorned with twelve gems representing the twelve tribes of Israel.

7) the me’il, a blue woollen robe with gold bells and ornamental pomegranates along the hem.

8) the tzitz, a gold forehead plate inscribed with “Holy to God.”

Tetzaveh also outlines the elaborate seven-day ceremony to inaugurate Aharon and his sons - Nadav, Avihu, Elazar, and Itama - into the Kahuna. Lastly, it describes the construction of the golden Mizbeach (altar) for burning incense or ketoret.

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Parsha People

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Aharon: With hands uplifted, blessings will flow, I’m ready to serve... into the Mishkan, I shall go!

Aharon’s Sons: We are the future of the kohanim; we will learn to do what’s right. We will help bring the korbanot, the fire we will light.

Choshen Mishpat: Twelve stones combined, the shvatim’s embrace, on the High Priest’s chest, I represent a holy place.

The Menorah: A flame that dances, never to cease. In its golden branches, a whisper of peace.

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Parsha Philosophy

Moshe and Aharon’s relationship offers a profound lesson in leadership and humility. When Moshe assumes a leadership role, Aharon welcomes him with joy. This reaction is remarkable, especially considering the repetitive theme of sibling rivalry throughout the Torah. Instead of envy, Aharon exhibits genuine happiness for Moshe’s leadership, setting a rare biblical example of positive fraternal relations.

Rabbi Sacks highlights this dynamic as a model of authentic leadership, which is not about holding power alone but sharing it and recognising the strengths in others. Leadership involves humility and the willingness to elevate others into roles of importance, even when those roles are sometimes more prestigious or more powerful than your own. Moshe, in turn, appoints Aharon as the Kohen Gadol, showing humility by empowering his brother to a position of outstanding spiritual leadership. This mutual respect and support serves as a timeless example of how leaders should act. Ultimately, the most impactful leaders are those who make room for others to shine.

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Parsha Playoff

Let’s play “Captain of the Ship!” Designate different corners of the room to be various items in the Mishkan. Corner 1 can be the Kodesh Kedoshim. Corner 2 is the Mizbeach, and so on. The captain must call out these elements of the Mishkan and then everyone runs to that corner. The twist in the game comes with the introduction of dual leadership.

Two captains are in charge, simultaneously calling out the destinations. The goal is for both leaders to be in sync and call out the same part of the Mishkan in harmony. However, achieving perfect harmony between the two leaders can be challenging, and the players must quickly adapt and move to the correct corner based on the captains’ calls, which may only sometimes match.

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Parsha Practical

Making room for someone else to shine should be simple and inconsequential. But it’s easier said than done. Sometimes, sharing the spotlight or delegating leadership can be complicated - especially if you love to lead.

The first step to making room for others (while simultaneously acknowledging the importance of your space) is a mentality shift.

Authentic leadership is not about superiority but rather it is about mentorship and growth for oneself and the people around you. Leadership means actively listening, identifying the aspirations and abilities of those around you, and providing opportunities for them to excel.

  • What is something that you are exceptionally good at?
  • Now, consider one of your close friends or family members. What do they excel at? Do they have strengths you particularly appreciate?
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Parsha Parable

Sisters in Sync

Once upon a time, in a cosy village just off the coast, there lived two sisters named Mayim and Yamit. They loved the sea and often dreamed of sailing across the ocean together. One day, they decided to embark on their grand adventure, and so they took off in their small but mighty sailboat.

Suddenly, dark clouds gathered, and a fierce storm broke out. The waves tossed their boat back and forth, and the sisters grew afraid.

Mayim, who was very brave and strong, tried to steer the ship with all her might, but the storm was too powerful. Yamit, who was very clever, attempted to use her map and compass to find a safer path instead, but the rain made it hard to see. Feeling scared and unsure, the sisters realised they needed to work together to navigate through the storm.

Mayim said, “Yamit, use your knowledge to guide us,” and Yamit replied, “Mayim, use your bravery to keep us moving forward.”

With Yamit’s smart ideas and Mayim’s courage, the sisters worked as a team. Yamit worked out the best route to avoid the big waves, and Mayim steered the boat with determination. Slowly but surely, they began to see a way through the storm.

As they saw the sky begin to clear and the sea grow calm again, the sisters smiled at each other, knowing they had overcome the storm together.

When they reached the shore safely, their village cheered. Mayim and Yamit had not only navigated the stormy sea but also learned that by combining their skills, they could overcome any challenge.

From that day on, they were known as the bravest and smartest sisterly sailors, always ready to face any adventure together, as a team.

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Parsha Ponderings

What Would You Do?

If you and a good friend were offered the same leadership position, how would you decide who got to be in charge? How would you split up the job between the two of you, so you can lead as a team?

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Parsha Puzzle


Which mitzvat asei (positive mitzva) has only ever been performed nine times (or perhaps even just seven times)?

(See below for the answer)

This Week's Parsha Puzzle Answer:

The Mishna (Yoma 3:5) discusses the mitzvah of the para adumah (Red Heifer) which was only performed seven times according to R. Meir, or nine times according to the Chachamim. When Mashiach comes, it will be performed once more.

This question has been adapted from Torah IQ by David Woolf, a collection of 1,500 Torah riddles, available on Amazon.

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Covenant & Conversation Family Edition

Written as an accompaniment to Rabbi Sacks’ weekly Covenant & Conversation essay, the Family Edition is aimed at connecting teenagers with his ideas and thoughts on the parsha.

With thanks to the Schimmel Family for their generous sponsorship of Covenant & Conversation, dedicated in loving memory of Harry (Chaim) Schimmel.

“I have loved the Torah of R’ Chaim Schimmel ever since I first encountered it. It strives to be not just about truth on the surface but also its connection to a deeper truth beneath. Together with Anna, his remarkable wife of 60 years, they built a life dedicated to love of family, community, and Torah. An extraordinary couple who have moved me beyond measure by the example of their lives.” — Rabbi Sacks

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