The Makings of a True Leader — Perspectives from Akko

During my summer vacation, I took my family on a trip up to the northern parts of Israel. One of the areas that we toured was the ancient city of Akko (Acre).

While there, we visited the famous Museum of Underground Prisoners. The citadel of Akko was built during the Ottoman Period over the ruins of a 12th-century Crusader fortress.

During that time, the citadel served as the palace of Akko rulers
and then as a prison, army barracks, and weapon warehouse for the local garrison.

During the British Mandate, the citadel of Akko served as the main prison for the north of Israel. The British used the museum to hold the young Jewish revolutionists who were fighting for their right to establish a national home and the formation of the state in the land of Israel.

The history of the prison included a prison break, out of which forty-one prisoners attempted to escape and sadly only twenty-seven were successful. The others either were killed, caught, or returned to jail. One of the most fascinating rooms in the prison was a room for prayers and study.

The room had a picture of the Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Aryeh Levin ZT” L, also known as “Father of Prisoners.”

Next to his picture in the room, is a letter from the prisoners to him thanking him for his selfless dedication in making the weekly trek from Jerusalem to the prison to see them and offering them moral support and guidance.

In the letter, they refer to RabbiLevin as their father and teacher. After spending time with the Jewish
prisoners, he would make sure to visit their family members and update each and every one of them about what transpired during his visit and how they were coping.

In this week’s Parsha Shoftim, Moshe tells the Jewish people that after they settle in the land of Israel they might want to appoint a king. Moshe lays out five laws that the appointed king must keep. The first law is that he has to be born amongst his brothers. The second is that he can’t have too many horses. The third is not to have too many wives, and the fourth is that he should not have too much money. The fifth and final law is that he must not be haughty and that he must keep to all the laws in the Torah. The king is not above the law. There can be no double standards in a Jewish hierarchy.

Always in life, the love of power corrupts souls and thus one of the most
problematic and common dilemmas arises when a person comes into power. It is all too easy for him or her to misuse that power. A person can get sucked into the trap of entitlement due to their elite status.

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe warns the Jewish people that the way to live as a leader is by example. By understanding that so many people are looking to the King for guidance. He must be in constant awareness that his actions speak louder than his words.

Rabbi Levin, holding the position of the Reb of Jerusalem, could have sent a
student or a friend on this difficult weekly mission and demanded a full report on each and every prisoner. However, he dedicated his life to show his fellow Jews just how important each and every one of them was even though they were in prison.

A true leader forces himself to leave his comfort zone and go down to the lowest places in order to raise up his fellow brothers that have fallen into the darkest of places.

A Jewish leader’s first and foremost responsibility is ensuring that his fellow brothers and sisters are cared for. As we enter the month of Elul in which we prepare to greet the King no other acts of preparation are more suitable. Chasidus explains that each and every one of us can grow into our level of leadership by simply prioritizing and dedicating a portion of our daily lives to helping other Jews who are less fortunate.

When we incorporate this humble and selfless attitude into our daily lives, we elevate ourselves into royalty. Our benevolent actions transform our souls and symbolically help to empower us when we do get to greet the King of all Kings, this Rosh Hashanah.

Every day during the month of Elul (from the 14th century, the Hebrew word or acronym for the phrase, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” referring to one’s relationship with G-d) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire a higher status and a deeper relationship with the source of life.

Have a good Shabbos!

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