Letter 52

Aaron Koller

Associate Professor of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies
Yeshiva University

March 12, 2017

Dear President Trump, Vice President Pence, Members of the Trump Administration and 115th Congress,

The great religions of the world have accumulated thousands of years of wisdom on the subject of leadership. Jewish texts speak often about power and its uses, and these texts continue to speak with a clear voice in the modern world.

A mishnah in Avot, a rabbinic text from nearly two thousand years ago, reflects on qualities that humans, especially elected officials, aspire to obtain: wisdom, power, and honor. The rabbis offer a paradoxical definition of these qualities: “Who is wise? One who learns from every person. Who is powerful? One who controls his impulses. Who is honored? One who honors all people” (Avot 4:1). True wisdom, power, and honor, the Mishnah teaches, come from humility, openness, and self-control.

These lessons are echoed in modern studies of leadership. Contemporary research shows that leaders who know how to listen, respect others, and act with restraint can better bring people together and accomplish their goals. Daniel Goleman’s classic article on leadership in the Harvard Business Review, for example, identifies empathy, social skills, and self-restraint as critical qualities for successful leaders.

The country is still hurting from a long and bruising campaign and a divisive start to a new administration. This has exposed deep divisions among our people. We need leaders who demonstrate these qualities:

  • a willingness to listen to and learn from all people,
  • the capacity to demonstrate power through restraint,
  • and an ability to command honor and respect by doling out honor and respect to all those who deserve it.

We all yearn for leaders who exemplify these traits and can unify the country, bringing wisdom to a complex and challenging world. We hope and pray that your administration can succeed in bringing needed leadership in a complicated time. The teachings of our ancient texts can illuminate the way.


Aaron Koller

Aaron Koller, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies
Yeshiva University


About the author

Aaron Koller, Associate Professor of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University, studies the ancient world of the eastern Mediterranean and Near East. His most recent book is Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2014). He has served as a Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and he held research fellowships at the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research and the Hartman Institute.