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What Kind of a Leader?

We are a few weeks past celebrating the holiday of Purim. I sometimes wonder if I could have been the kind of hero Esther was. I don't like to hide my identity, and find it very difficult to imagine that my actions will save an entire people. I realize that she didn't expect any of these things to happen to her either, and probably was impressed after the fact that she was capable of those things.

Last week we discussed the story of the Golden Calf during Torah Study. I saw commentaries that compared the kind of leader Moses was to Aaron's leadership style. Moses was a powerful leader who helped free the Children of Israel from slavery. Then he climbed Mount Sinai, and the people waited for him to come back to them to lead them. As the days and nights continued without any communication from him, the people started to react. There are a number of commentaries about why the people did what they did, but this year I started to think more about why the leaders did what they did. 

Moses was with G-d at the top of the mountain. Aaron was with the people - who were watching days go by without Moses. Aaron asked what the people wanted. Aaron asked what they were thinking. Aaron tried to understand their needs. 

When Moses led, he would tell people what to do. When Aaron led, he would ask what they wanted. The commentaries point out that both types of leaders are important for society. The commentaries also point out that most leaders can't accomplish both things - leaders are usually either the kind who mandate, or the kind who listen.

I realized that I am the kind of leader who listens. If you want to know my five-year plan for the congregation, then I need to talk to the congregation, and find out what the congregants want as their goal - and then I would do everything I can to make the goals reality. 

Since we are currently between Purim (that includes a King as a main character) and Passover (where wheat is a primary consideration), it reminds me of another story about leadership. Once upon a time there was a king whose advisors told that the current year's wheat harvest was making everyone who ate it go a bit crazy. They assured the king that he did not have to worry, because they have saved enough wheat for him to continue eating the "normal" wheat, so he won't go crazy. The king said that he had to eat the same wheat that his people ate. 

I remember when I heard the story as a teenager, that it made sense for a leader to what  the people he was leading were experiencing. I felt that the "Prince and the Pauper" type of leaders - were better because they got to see the world from the perspective of those they were leading.

The pandemic has challenged my leadership style in ways that nothing else ever has.  Everyone wants to go back to "normal" and be together. When I talk to the congregants, some people are most motivated by trying to protect each other. Some people are most motivated by needing to be with each other. Responding to each of these requests have potentially harmful repercussions.

Sometimes compromise works. I tried to keep people safe, and found creative ways to allow people to find spiritual inspirations, long-distance ways of "visiting" with each other, and provided cultural and educational opportunities. 

Sometimes compromise only means that no one is happy. In the case of the pandemic no one was happy about being separated from each other. Some people were happier - because they did get to experience services, learning, culture, and personal interaction. Many of the rest of the congregation was less happy - I am sure that there were people who did not try any of the things that we were offering. 

One congregant I called recently, asked how I was doing. It was around Purim, and I said that I was tired. They said that I must be joking. I thought that they were joking. They were serious. They thought that since we were not gathering in person, I was not working at all this whole time. I explained how many things we were doing and how much more effort was involved in what we needed to do since the pandemic began. They were surprised. 

In Jewish tradition we are taught that one of the reasons the Creation story begins with one human is to remind us that to lose a life is as if we have lost the entire world, and to save a life is as if we have saved an entire world.  Those words echoed in me for every decision I was making about what the congregation should do during the pandemic. I can't imagine being Esther and realizing that my action may save everyone. I can imagine that my actions and choices may save someone. 

When I realized that my leadership style is more like Aaron than Moses, it made me a bit uncomfortable. I truly want to be the best leader I can be for the congregation, and in the community.  If I wasn't like both of these leaders, I thought that I am not being the best. I came to understand that it is ok for me to be me. The fact that I studied their leadership styles means that I have learned more about being a leader, and can continue to try, and continue to learn. It takes pressure off of trying to be whatever the perfect leader is.

Just like I can come to terms with the kind of leader I am, I hope that our stories remind you that you have a responsibility to be a light to the nations as well. We are all commanded to be holy. Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Take care of our world.

Wed, June 29 2022 30 Sivan 5782