By: MAJ Gabriel Koshinsky, US Army
There is a famous line that goes “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.” Generally understood this means to keep your emotions in check and guard from overexpression. After all, there is such a thing as sharing too much, which leaves one open to attack. There is merit to remaining conscientious about what we wear emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Certainly this fits the stoic predispositions of good military leaders. We all have opportunities to lead in our lives. So the guiding question is, what should we wear as leaders?
Leaders have distinct roles, and this truth has persisted from days of old to the present day. Just as priests wear special garments, so do soldiers. Though uniforms and rank symbolize the great authority to lead, they embody something far more significant than material power. What makes a uniform so special? It symbolizes the responsibility to serve.
The American soldier wears garments that display a duty to their country. All soldiers wear ranks and patches that reflect certain responsibilities and represent a bigger picture.
The following lines from the Torah portion of Tetzaveh (Ex. 28:9- 12) truly speak to the bigger picture of what Jewish leaders should be wearing on their sleeves— their history, their people, and their hope:
“Then take two lazuli stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel: six of their names on one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. On the two stones you shall make seal engravings – the work of a lapidary – of the names of the sons of Israel. Having bordered them with frames of gold, attach the two stones to the shoulder-pieces of the ephod as stones for remembrance of the Israelite people, whose names Aaron shall carry upon his two shoulder pieces for remembrance before the Eternal.”
It is true that wearing your heart on your sleeve can get you into trouble. Soldiers who put giant bumper stickers on the back of their trucks may induce raised eyebrows or even eye-rolling. People respect leaders who keep their emotions in check and wear their uniforms with humility. We admire leaders who quietly calm the storms of everyday living and carry out their duties without being brash or boastful.
While none of us are born perfect or lead perfect lives, our authority figures are obligated to pursue excellence and lead by example. Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and many other Jewish leaders faced the crucible of leadership in their community. Their ability to carry the burden that rested on their shoulders bears testament to their strength of character and is worth more than any great physical record. Aaron carried the names of the Jewish people on his chest to show that it wasn’t about him—it was about the people he was leading. When our current leaders follow in their footsteps, that is what brings honor to those who came before, and even sanctifies their garb.
This concept of wearing leadership on one’s shoulders is highlighted by the famed Israeli war hero and legendary soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu. In one of his letters he wrote: On me, on us rests the duty of keeping our country safe… we are united by something that is above and beyond political outlook. What unites us produces a feeling of brotherhood, of mutual responsibility, a recognition of the value of man and his life, a strong and sincere desire for peace, a readiness to stand in the breach, and much more. I believe in myself, my country, my family, and my future. This is a special people, and it’s good to belong to them.
What we wear and how we act defines who we are as leaders. It also represents all those who preceded us. We must wear leadership in a way that is constantly cognizant of those we serve; to truly put our people first, now and always. As Jews, our tzitzit, kippah, and tallit are small reminders that what we wear stands as a memorial for the positions we hold. Our uniform and rank represents the same for our duty as soldiers and reminds us of our responsibility to the soldiers of yesteryear, today, and generations to come—our responsibility to our entire nation.
Gabriel Koshinsky is an Armor Major who holds a BA in Philosophy from Capital University and an MS in Organizational Leadership from Columbus State University. He served as a Company Commander in A Co, 1-77AR, 3/1AD. In 2019, he graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a degree in the Intelligence and National Security Master’s Program. He currently attends the resident Command & General Staff College.
Originally published in the Purim 2022 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.