A friend asked for my opinion; “who was the most influential figure of the last century?” Our ensuing conversation squared off around the dichotomy of leaders in times of destruction or leaders who brought progress. Is the most influential person a warrior or a peacemaker? Are we deciding between commanding forces or advancing civilization? Hitler or Einstein? Churchill or Mandela? I thought about this question, hoping my legacy is at least that of someone who improved the world.

In the Torah, some leaders are both peacemakers and warriors. Abraham made a pact with unfriendly neighbors and battled marauding Kings. Moses rescued the Hebrews and commanded troops against hostile tribes. Perhaps because of their ability to play dual roles, they are among the most influential figures in history.

We begin the fourth book of the Torah, BaMidbar (“Numbers”), with identity and leadership. There is only one Moses. Yet, many are needed to lead men into battle and to foster civil society. Representatives of each tribe are named. Why does Torah now expand on the roles of dozens of other Hebrews? Perhaps the book foreshadows when the greatest leader will step back.

Soon enough in BaMidbar, Moses buckled under the pressure of governing the people and passed the military leadership to Joshua.  Leadership is not a permanent status.  No person is a perfect leader.

I was debating whether to attend a community meeting this week. A friend suggested that as a community leader, I must show up. I began to reflect on my role and my legacy. Neither a commander or a chieftain, and holding no elected office I felt plebeian. I have no pulpit, neither bully nor bimah. I don’t compare to Abraham or Moses as a leader. No canon, saga, or song will tell my story. At best, family and friends will recall my good deeds and mock my failings.

Martin Buber relates the Chasidic story of Reb Zusya. On his deathbed, he began to cry uncontrollably, and his students and disciples tried hard to comfort him. They asked him, “Rabbi, why do you weep? You are almost as wise as Moses and almost as hospitable as Abraham. Surely heaven will judge you favorably.”

Zusya answered them: “It is true. When I get to heaven, I won’t worry much if God asks me, ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Abraham?’ or ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Moses?’ I know I would be able to answer these questions.  After all, I was not given the righteousness of Abraham or the faith of Moses but I tried to be both hospitable and thoughtful.  But what will I say when God asks me, ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Zusya?’

The time to consider our legacy is now. We cannot all be leaders, chieftains, or prophets. We can help create a better world, with wisdom, generosity, and kindness.  Just exercise the inherent goodness within you.  For now, I will focus on being the most Evan I can be.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame