A Growth Oriented City

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In its list of sin-offerings, the Torah has a unique introduction.  Instead of beginning with the usual contingent situation of “if a person sins,” the Torah begins with the phrase “asher nasi yecheta” which would normally be translated: “when the leader sins.”  Rashi, though, following a rabbinic reading, says that the word “asher” in this instance means “if”, but this word was chosen for its additional meaning of “praiseworthy.” As Rashi says: “Praiseworthy is the generation whose leader admits to even his accidental sins.”

There are many qualities that are necessary for good leadership. A leader must be wise, discerning, empathic, understanding and a host of other things. Why, then, does Rashi focus on particularly this aspect of admitting mistakes as a key element in his leadership?

Perhaps, in addition to the importance of fixing one’s wrongdoings per-se, this ability to admit to one’s sins and change accordingly is indicative of a key element of leadership. Many leaders, especially those who have been in power for a period of time, experience a form of calcification. They might be frozen in time, always thinking about issues in the same way. However, to be a great leader, one’s perspective must always be growing and developing. One must develop better and deeper understandings of the issues of the day and new issues must be tackled. 

The ability to admit to a mistake is synonymous with this growth-oriented mindset. A leader who is set in the past or even in the present and thinks about himself and issues statically will have a hard time admitting to a mistake and making the necessary changes for the future. However, a leader who is able to admit mistakes, apologize for them and learn from them to act differently in the future is not stuck in a single perspective. He is able to dynamically assess the needs of his people, always rising to the occasion even when new issues arise.

Perhaps this is a reason that the city Yerushalayim, the seat of Jewish leadership, had its name formulated in the future tense. In the aftermath of Akeidat Yitzhak, Avraham names the special location: And Abraham named that place, ‘The Lord will see,’ as it is said to this day: On the mountain, the Lord will be seen.” Avraham did not name the city after the dramatic event that just occurred but about the relationship with God that his descendants would have in the future. 

At first glance, this is very surprising. Avraham just lived through one of the most emotional events of his life and just communicated with an angel of God. Accordingly, naming the location “God saw” or “God sees” would seemingly be appropriate.  Avraham, however, like all great Jewish leaders, was able to transcend the present moment and look forward towards a more glorious future.  In the future, Avraham foresaw that his relationship with God would expand to all his children and it would intensify with the divine revelation in the Beit HaMikdash. Ever growth-oriented, Avraham decided to focus on this future and not remain in the present, no matter how dramatic of an event had just occurred. In this way, growth-oriented and nimble leadership is etched into the very name and fiber of Yerushalayim. 

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