Each to His Means

And if one’s offering is from the flock, from the sheep or from the goats, for an elevation-offering; he shall offer an unblemished male.

Leviticus 1.10 (Parashat Vayikra)

We begin the third Book of the Torah, Vayikra (Leviticus) with the commandments concerning the Olah, the elevation-offering before God. When bringing this offering, the penitent would literally elevate the animal above his head before placing it upon the altar.

The Torah goes to great pains to detail the three different categories of animals eligible for the Olah: bull, flock (sheep and goats) and birds. Why not list them together since the ritual is basically the same? The medieval Spanish-Jewish scholar, Isaac Abravanel, states that as long as one serves God according to his ability, God rewards the penitent. Indeed, the Talmud states, “It is the same whether one does more or less, provided he intends it for the sake of heaven (Berachot 5b).”

To see how this principle applies in modern times, we need to look no further than the rather controversial topic of a flat (regressive) tax. In theory, it sounds nice; everybody pays the same rate. So if, for example, the flat tax rate is 10% and a person earns $1million, that lucky person would pay $100,000 in taxes. Yet, he would still have $900,000 in spending money. But the person who earns $10,000 in a year would pay $1,000, with only $9,000 to spend on essentials. To balance that inequity, we have a progressive tax; in theory, poorer people pay a lower rate – or even get a refund – and wealthier people pay a larger percentage of their income.

In the Torah, wealthier people, those who afford to sacrifice a bull, were expected to do so. And those who could only afford a goat or a turtle-dove, would offer these animals. This was a progressive sacrificial taxation system (unlike the half-sheqel).

When it comes to leadership, our passage this weeks teaches us that a progressive form of leadership is far better than a regressive one. In other words, we can’t treat everyone the same.While we can certainly hold everyone to certain basic expectations (sales targets, behavioral standards, dress code, etc.), our daily interactions can – and should – be different. If I know that Suzie is high maintenance and needs constant positive reinforcement while Owen detests micromanagement, than as a leader I must treat them differently if I want them – and our team – to flourish.

Finally, the Torah portion implies that, no matter one’s economic position, nobody is exempt from their responsibilities. Everyone can find a turtle-dove to bring as a sacrifice. And today, nobody can weasel out of basic responsibilities. But as leaders, our job is not to make sure that our people do the minimum; it to reach for the stars so that everyone in our orbit reaches for and touches the stars.

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