And Yaakov went out from Be’er Sheva and he went to Charan. (Bereishis 28:10)
And was (Yaakov) the only one that went out from there? Didn’t many donkey drivers and many camel drivers go out from there? Yet, the Torah says “And Yaakov went out”.
Rabi Azaryah said in the name of Rabi Yehudah bar Simon: at the time when a Tzadik is in a city, he is its splendor and glory, when he leaves the city the splendor and the glory vacate.
The Eitz Yosef explains “and hadara is the kavod (honor) that he (the Tzadik) gives to every person and the honor that they (in return) give to him. The impression that a Tzadik has on a community is that they, in a way, emulate his elevated behavior.”
The Midrash provides an example of this. After Yaakov worked for seven years to marry Rachel, Lavan schemed to exchange her for Leah. Lavan revealed this scheme to the people of Charan. He reminded them that before Yaakov came, Charan lacked water.
When Yaakov arrived, they received the blessing of water. Lavan explained: if we trick Yaakov into working for me for another seven years, we will be guaranteed another seven years of water.
The Midrash says:
And all of that day (the day Yaakov was scheduled to marry Rachel) they (the townspeople) would praise him (Yaakov), and when night fall came, he asked them why they were doing this.
They responded: you did chesed with us (by providing water), therefore we are praising you, they sang Ha Laya, Ha Laya (to hint to Yaakov that) Hee Leah, Hee Leah (she is Leah and not Rachel).
The Midrash is telling us that even though the townspeople had promised Lavan to keep his secret and even though they would have greatly benefitted from another seven years of water, they did not want to trick Yaakov because he had performed chesed for them. This is the impact that a Tzadik can have even on a less than stellar group of people.
Many times, we find ourselves in a situation in which we are in the role of “tzadik”. Meaning, in the eyes of others, we are more righteous. This happens commonly in the workplace where a group will be talking and someone will speak negatively about another or use inappropriate language and then catch himself and say something like “Sorry Moshe, I didn’t realize you were here” or “Excuse me Sarah, I know you don’t appreciate that type of language.”
Commonly, we will respond with something like “It’s fine” or “Don’t worry, I’ve heard worse”.
While this seems polite, it is a lost opportunity to influence others. Instead of excusing the behavior, step up and reply with “Thanks for realizing that I try to avoid speaking crassly or negatively about others. It really enhances my self-worth and the way that I value others, even those with whom I might be upset. We can all try to do that.”
Leadership is not about title, position, or authority. It’s not conferred by elections or coronations. It’s about anyone, even you, who influences others for the good. Go lead!
Yaakov made an impression on Be’er Sheva and Charan to the extent that the people who lived there acted more properly. We have the opportunity to do the same in the communities in which we live and work.
Think about the personal and professional groups where you carry influence. Play out in your mind how you will respond when faced with improper speech within those groups.