A Call for Ethical Leadership

10 Tevet 5784 /December 22, 2023

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, we witness a powerful moment as Judah steps forward to plead with Joseph on behalf of his brother Benjamin. As Judah’s impassioned words unfold, we find inspiration and timeless lessons that resonate with our responsibility as individuals and as a community to speak for those less fortunate.

The Torah, with its timeless wisdom, encourages us to actively engage in shaping the world around us. In a world fraught with challenges and complexities, it becomes imperative for us to recognize the value of taking a stand for what is right. Judah’s plea represents a call to action, a reminder that our voices matter and our involvement can influence the course of events.

Leadership is a recurring theme in the Torah, and Vayigash underscores the importance of ethical and compassionate leadership. As we reflect on the qualities of our leaders, it is crucial that we seek leaders who embody moral clarity and possess an ethical value system. Role modeling a commitment to justice, fairness, and the well-being of all individuals are the qualities that we must demand from our leaders.

Leading by example is a principle deeply embedded in the Torah’s teachings. Our actions must mirror the values we espouse. In the realm of community leadership, especially with our elected officials, this means approaching our work with integrity, sincerity, and dedication to the principles we hold dear. By doing so, we inspire others to follow suit, creating a ripple effect that amplifies the impact of our collective efforts.

Moral clarity, an essential component of effective leadership, guides us through the labyrinth of ethical dilemmas. In the pursuit of justice and positive change, we must possess a clear understanding of right and wrong. This clarity serves as a compass, directing our activism toward righteous causes and steering us away from harm. An often-repeated leadership mantra is, “Don’t make things worse!”

This week three local San Antonio council members submitted the formal paperwork requesting a special meeting to vote on a resolution calling for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire in Israel and Palestine and the return of all hostages immediately.” My question is, why are they not simply calling for world peace? Yes, of course, everyone wants the pain and suffering in the region to be over. For the necessary healing from the horrific acts of terror to be able to take its course. For loved ones to complete their mourning process surrounded by their family and friends. For the hostages stolen from their daily lives to be returned after seventy-seven days in captivity.

The naivete of this resolution’s language highlights these council members’ evident misunderstanding of the complexities of the war and unfortunately ignores the silent pain of local constituents trying to make sense of an unsensible situation. The only thing this resolution demonstrates is that unlike Judah, who spoke on behalf of Benjamin in this week’s Torah portion, these three council members lack the awareness to see for whom they are speaking. Presenting platitudes and language so sterile of meaning suggests a disinterest in dealing with the real issues of those in pain and instead makes this about them and driving their own personal agendas.

Every week I conclude this column with the phrase, “Because we are Stronger Together.” These words encapsulate the essence of our communal responsibility. The Torah, through the narrative of this week’s Vayigash portion, implores us to recognize the strength inherent in unity. Our communal leadership gains potency when rooted in a shared commitment to ethical principles and a collective pursuit of justice.

After having spent many hours of conversation with our elected officials, there seems to be a potential agreement to delay the impending call for a vote. We are hopeful that we can help steer these community leaders in a more productive direction for the benefit of the community. However, this attempt to push a resolution that would only divide the community demonstrates our need to act today.

Now is a time for you to contact your city council member and let him/her know that voting on this resolution is a bad idea because it will only fan the flames of local pain and suffering, raise the associated dangers for acts of hate and prejudice, and encourage the bullying and intimidating behaviors that caused these three council members to make reactive decisions in the first place. What we need today is peace, patience, and levelheadedness.

In a world often marked by discord, the Torah challenges us to be a beacon of light, exemplifying the strength that arises when individuals unite for a just and ethical cause. As we engage in this community activism, let us heed the lessons of Vayigash – to lead with integrity, possess moral clarity, and work tirelessly for peaceful outcomes. Together, as a community dedicated to positive change, we echo the timeless sentiment: Because we are…


Shabbat shalom.