We find in Parshas Yisro a veiled charge to the Jewish people to be leaders. It is a missive that can be found or alluded to in other parts of the Torah, one that seems to be the entire backbone of Parshat Kedoshim. God tells Moshe to tell Bnai Yisrael that now that they’ve seen His wonders and how He brought them to this place where they were now standing, that if the Jewish people were to obey His laws, that they’d be God’s treasured nation. The next verse states that the Jews are to be a “mamleches Kohanim v’goy kadosh”, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. When we follow the laws that God set out for us, it states that we are holy, moreso than just being created in His image. This command is not simply a nice idea to try and cling to, but a decree. God is holy, and He demands we be holy as well. Being tasked with this sense of kedusha naturally makes us into leaders.
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asserts this notion of being tapped with kedushah. He writes of being with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in August 2000 at the General Assembly at the United Nations along with two thousand other religious leaders of major faiths from across the globe. Rabbi Sacks pointed out to Rabbi Steinsaltz that even among such distinguished company, they were different as they were almost the only two religious leaders donned in suits. He writes “it is almost a universal phenomenon that priests and holy people wear distinctive garments to indicate that they are set apart (the core meaning of the word kadosh, “holy”). In post-biblical Judaism there were no robes of office because everyone was expected to be holy.” This final line hammers the point home. Holiness is our charge to leadership. It’s not one that we can shirk. Being holy causes us, at times, to live lives against the grain of society. It’s not always easy to take time from our busy schedules to daven three times a day. It doesn’t always seem prudent to give of our time and money if we want to be as successful as we can. Being a leader does not always breed holiness, but being holy can breed the traits of a strong leader.
The 17th of Shvat this year is when we read Parshas Yisro, and it marks the yahrtzeit of my mother’s beloved brother, my uncle Joel Radman z”l. Our parsha teaches us that as a leader, we are to act as holy individuals ingrained with a mantra of kedushah. Uncle Joel established the Chevra Kadisha in Columbia, MO, where he and my Aunt Sheri raised their sons. As a first-born himself, and the father of a first-born boy, he also ensured that there would be a siyum for taanis bechorim before Pesach. If anyone has heard of Mexico, MO outside of the state, it’s most likely because Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue hails from there. Uncle Joel cleaned up the Jewish cemetery there. Additionally, he was also a leader in other areas as well. Joel Radman was a titan in Columbia’s real estate industry, who saw incredible success in his endeavors. After his passing, the Columbia Board of Realtors created the Joel Radman Award. The award application mentions that “Joel made a major contribution to the real estate industry in mid-Missouri and was particularly generous with his time and advice to the new REALTOR® members. It was his integrity, honesty, and caring attitude toward all people that made Joel unique.” These traits that are listed make it even more fitting when examined in the context of his Hebrew name, Moshe Yossel, two of the most dynamic leaders in Jewish history. Yossel (Yosef) pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and with the help of the Almighty, became the second most powerful governmental officer in the hierarchy of Egyptian leadership. Similarly, in regard to being the leader of Bnai Yisrael, Moshe Rabbeinu is recounted in the waning verses of the Torah as, (lehavdil elef havadalos) to quote Bret Hart, “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.”
Uncle Joel was taken from this world too soon, leaving behind a loving family and a sterling reputation. As Jews, when we collectively mourn the loss of seminal figures in our history or grieve for ancient catastrophic events, there is a contemporary struggle to truly feel the sense of loss for something that occurred so long ago. To me, what hurts almost more than the aforementioned struggle is the feeling of never having the chance to truly appreciate something or someone before they are gone. Sometimes, the onus is on us if we neglect to cherish individuals and things we hold dear, while other times there is not much we can do to alter the course of reality. I was still a toddler when my Uncle Joel passed away, as my family was moving to Cleveland from Chicago. My mother and aunt would tell me stories about him, and there are even pictures of him holding me as a baby. I have proof that there was interaction between the two of us. Unfortunately for me, although those memories are less than three decades old, they might as well be from centuries ago. May we merit to continue to lead in ways that make you and the entire heavenly Radman cheering section proud. Yehi Zichro Baruch.