Saturday, June 27, 2015

On Leadership: Lessons from Charleston, SCOTUS, and Chukat

Friends, I wanted to share the words I delivered during Temple B'nai Torah's Erev Shabbat service last night. I spoke these words with regard to our annual installation of all new boards (Board of Trustees, Sisterhood, Brotherhood, Chai Club, Circle of Friends, PTA, and BNTY). Installation coincided, of course, with the tragedies of Charleston as well as the victories of the #SCOTUS ruling. Please enjoy.


This past week has generated a roller coaster of emotions for so many of us. We wept with grief and horror following the murder of 9 Bible-studying members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. We condemned the act of terror and hatred that ended their lives too soon, while pondering issues of race, bigotry, violence, and guns. We wondered how a man like Dylan Roof comes to be - how is his hatred allowed to fester, grow, and evolve to such a place that he would walk into a church and callously take lives? His action was founded in fear, intolerance, and, frankly, pure evil.
Many of us wept again today - but these were tears of pride, relief, and happiness. We celebrate as our Supreme Court bravely allowed same-sex marriage to become the law of the entire nation. We can now breathe easier, knowing that our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends and family members are now one enormous step closer to equal rights. GLBT rights are one of the most pressing issues of our time, and, soon, we won't have to refer to same-sex marriage. Rather, it will just be marriage. We are alive at a time of change, where we can be witness to a decision founded in love, inclusion, and, frankly, pure goodness.
In Parashat Chukat, we witness the transition of power from one generation of leaders to the next. We are towards the end of the forty years of wandering in the desert. Miriam the prophetess dies, and, simultaneously, the Israelites find themselves without water. They are scared, they are thirsty, and many of them long to go back to Egypt, where, forgetting they were slaves, they only remember that they had plenty of water to drink and food to eat.
God tells Moses to lift up Aaron's rod in front of all of the people, and to speak to a large rock, commanding it to bring forth water. Simple - lift rod, command rock. Yet, in the moment of action, Moses instead hits the rock twice, demanding that it bring forth water. Water does indeed flow forth. But this action, founded in fear, greatly disappoints God. God tells Moses that his public act of disobedience and lack of faith will result in his death. He will not be allowed to enter Israel with the rest of the Israelites, and he will instead die in the wilderness.
Moses and Aaron's roles as our leaders are retired, and the new leaders are selected in this week's text. Joshua takes the mantel from Moses, and Eleazar from Aaron. These new leaders are the ones who will enable the Israelites to continue their development into the civilization, culture, and people that we will one day become. Moses and Aaron will never see their people truly live in freedom and security in the promised land.
Tonight, we mark the transition from one group of leaders to the next. Our tenures always end before we have a chance to complete all the work, or to see all our ideas through to fruition. Yet we carry on, we dream, we visualize a future that is fruitful, dynamic, and holy.
In light of this past week's roller coaster, I ask you an important question - what kind of leader will you be? Will you make decisions that are brave, that are forward-looking, that are based in righteousness, Jewish values, and goodness? Or will you default to ideas based in fear, assumptions, or the mistakes of the past? Will you have faith to get through the hard times? Or will you strike the rock publicly, and reveal a lack of groundedness or trust? Will you have the heart to be self-reflective and self-aware as a leader, or will you charge forth without thought for others and their feelings?
You all have the power to lead Temple B'nai Torah into the next chapter of our lives. We have been in existence, lest we forget, for only seven years. You will help us as we enter our eighth year of life. I encourage you to be courageous, to be a mensch, to be kind, to be strong. Don't be afraid to defend what you believe in, and to be confident in your choices to make this community the best that it can be. Your participation is a holy act, please don't ever forget it. It has an impact on all of the people around you: your partners and spouses, your families, your friends. They see that you have taken upon yourself a leadership role in a religious organization. This is a role to be taken seriously, with respect, and with honor.

After the events of the past days, I hope we will one day look back on your leadership with pride. Make us proud, do right by us, and help us on our journey toward the future of Temple B'nai Torah. 

Ken Y'hi Ratzon - May this be God's will. 

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