Chelm is a fictional town in European Jewish folklore known as a community of holy fools. (Illustration/F. Halperin's "Khakme Khelm," Warsaw, 1926)
Chelm is a fictional town in European Jewish folklore known as a community of holy fools. (Illustration/F. Halperin's "Khakme Khelm," Warsaw, 1926)

4 questions to ask of our leaders before Passover


Vayakhel-Pekudei

Exodus 35:1–40:38

Ezekiel 36:16-38

Shabbat ParahNumbers 19:1-22


We return, once again, to Chelm — the town of holy fools. One day, the new rabbi of Chelm was on the phone with the retired rabbi of Chelm….

Old: How was the last board meeting?

New: Terrible. We had a discussion of how best to serve the needy amongst us, and the board decided to alleviate suffering by declaring that “from now on every poor person will eat cream and every rich person will drink milk,” and their means of doing so is to rename “milk” as “cream” and “cream” to “milk.”

Old: That’s Chelm.

New: Worse. They want to protect children from gun violence by arming their teachers. Where am I?

Old: Chelm.

New: That was not helpful.

Old: Look at this week’s Torah portion as compared to last week. In Exodus 32:1 we read, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they assembled around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us.”

New: They forgot about the Exodus and Egypt.

Old: People often panic into foolishness. This week we read in Exodus 35:1, “Moses then convoked [vayachel] the whole community of Israel and said to them: ‘These are the words that Adonai has commanded you to do.’”

New: How does that help me before tonight’s board meeting?

Old: A real leader turns a mob into a community, not a community into a mob. Any fool can create discord, but the wise leader creates a kahal or Kehillah — a community. Moses leads them towards the sacred, to Shabbat and mitzvot, and away from foolishness, worshiping idols of their own creation. The people gathered around Aaron, a weak person who does whatever they want. Moses gathers the people around Torah, a common ambition, a higher calling.

New: How can I help these fools see themselves as leaders of the whole community?

Old: By using the calendar, we can ask four important questions about leadership.

Shabbat Shekalim was on Feb. 10, 2018; the Torah portion contains the account of the half-shekel offering which was brought by each citizen of Israel to maintain the Mishkan.

For Shekalim, we ask: Do we have the human resources to pursue our mission? Is everyone invested? Does everyone have equal access to full citizenship?

The Shabbat of Feb. 24 was Shabbat Zachor — the Sabbath of Remembrance. That’s the Shabbat before Purim, when we read “Remember what Amalek did to you.” Haman is an Amalek kind of person — he attacks from behind.

For Zachor, we ask: Do we remember our mission? Do we remember where we have been, and where we wish to be going? And what is it that we remember — myths or facts? Do we recall with nostalgia life as it never was, or do we recall with honesty and maturity our past as it truly happened?

This week is Shabbat Parah. This Shabbat we read the account of the red heifer. This is the Shabbat preceding Shabbat HaChodesh, in preparation for Passover.

For Parah, we ask: Are the material resources we have being well used to pursue our mission? Are we preserving our resources and managing our wealth, or are we squandering it all away?

Shabbat HaChodesh is March 17. We will read “This month (hachodesh) will be for you the beginning of the months, it will be for you the first of the months of the year” (Exodus 12:2), and in the middle of this month is Passover.

And for HaChodesh, we ask: Where are we in time? Are we aware of our moment? Are we mindful of the world we are creating with our words? Are our lives well spent?

New: That is very wise advice.

Old: Even a fool can be wise once in a while.

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan is chief program officer at HaMaqom|The Place, formerly Lehrhaus Judaica. He can be reached at peretz@hmqm.org.