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Our most solemn responsibility as leaders is to take care of our service members.

Leaders who make the welfare of those whom they are entrusted to lead build cohesive teams and esprit de corps based on trust. The men and women under their charge have the confidence that those appointed above them have their best interests in mind and are therefore free to operate unfettered to accomplish their mission.

Leaders must also be principled and by upholding statutes and enforcing regulations. This would seem to suggest that every decision a leader makes must be filtered through a consistent process through regulation, policy, and values. Under this premise a leader should not be allowed to deviate from the regulation lest the integrity of the whole structure be destroyed, like a small hole in a dam. Sometimes, however, the policy or regulation has repercussions counter to its design or purpose. The regulation may unduly and unfairly burden those which it is supposed to protect. What must a leader do in these instances?

A leader must have the willing ness and courage to sacrifice their own comfort and wellbeing to do the right thing. Sometimes the solution is to request an exception to policy or try to change the onerous regulation. Sometimes these least drastic measures do not work. It is important to see if one can rectify the issue within the process before deviating from it. Even while deviating from the policy or process, ensure you are doing so in a limited way—only as far, long, and deep as needed to rectify the situation. In other words, be respectful of the policy and show that you are trying to adhere to it, only deviating to rectify an injustice. Circumventing a policy or regulation to do the right thing and take care of a person is not without its dangers, but when done properly and for righteous reasons, the reward outweighs the punishment (and punishment might be avoided).

What should a leader do when regulation and the welfare of their people conflict? Should there be an exception to policy? Does G-d have an exception to policy? Is there an exception to policy in the Torah especially for negative mitzvot? Thankfully, there are many biblical and contemporary case studies from which leaders can seek wisdom.

The most obvious exceptions to policy with this readership is the religious accommodation to wear a beard in uniform or allowance of wine for religious services when alcohol is normally prohibited. We are also probably familiar with the statute that it is permissible to violate Shabbat to save a life. These examples are routine and do not involve too much risk or deliberation. When you do the paperwork for an exception to policy, you are showing that you respect the policy but are requesting to deviate narrowly to accommodate your practices.

Sometimes a leader finds them selves needing to violate regulations in a bigger way. An interesting biblical example is from Moses when he descended the mountain with the luchot (the two tablets containing the Ten Commandment). Moses saw his people worshiping the Golden Calf, an offense punishable by death. In an act of selfless service to his people, Moses literally broke the law by smashing the luchot. He accepted the consequences of this action instinctively to protect his people.

A more contemporary military example is Captain Brett Crozier of the US Navy. Crozier was relieved of command of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt for actions he took to protect his crew from what he perceived were the unique dangers presented by COVID-19, to stop the spread among his crew. There is little argument that what Crozier did was put his people above policy or regulations, which was rewarded by the sendoff he received by an adoring crew as seen in viral videos. The issue came with the way it might have been done and is therefore an important case study for us to ensure that if we need to break our figurative luchot, we do it in the best possible manner.

As a leader, if we are doing it right, we might be confronted fairly often with situations where violating a regulation in order to ensure the welfare of those we are leading might be commonplace. If you find yourself in this situation, I advise you not to make a decision too quickly or take actions haphazardly. There are tradeoffs, calculated risk, and best practices for doing this. If you can seek guidance and cover from many sources such as superiors, JAG, IG, or other authorities, your chances of doing the right thing and avoiding consequences for the inevitable violations of regulations is more assured.

One principle that cannot be violated is that a leader must always do the right thing the right thing—even when the right thing is complicated, as it often is.

Originally published in The Purim 2023 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.