When the fleeing Israelites reached the shores of the Red Sea they found themselves trapped between the vast waters and the Egyptian army. According to midrash one Israelite, Nachson ben Aminadav, had the faith and courage to step into the raging sea when all the rest were paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. Rather than waiting for a miracle, Nachshon dove in. He forced the issue and, in part because of him, the waters split and revealed a path to freedom and liberation.
Torah is overflowing with examples of different types of leaders and modalities of leadership. Here are a few lessons communal leaders can learn from the example of Nachson ben Aminadav.
- lead when leadership is needed
- are emotionally intelligent and understand the needs, fears, hopes, and feelings of their communities
- set a personal example
- embrace change
- are willing to take risks
- bring others with them
- have faith in themselves, others, and the bigger picture
- are able to be decisive when decisiveness is called for
- leave a legacy and inspire others
- look to the future with optimism and hope
The opening pages of the book of Exodus, which Jews worldwide are reading this week, recall the mystical moment when Moses encounters the Burning Bush. Among the many details conveyed in the passage is the following:
God said to Moses, “Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.”
As I go about my days at The Davis Academy I am blessed to work with many amazing people of all ages. One of my colleagues, our 8th grade Jewish Studies teacher, has a spiritual practice that I truly admire: Whenever a student shares in a way that creates a feeling of holiness in the classroom, my colleague removes his shoes. This simple gesture acknowledges that mundane physical space can be transformed into sacred space through acts of sharing, connection, and vulnerability.
Imagine if we all removed our shoes whenever we felt that one of our students, children, friends, loved ones, or colleagues had either spoken or acted with kedusha (holiness). If we took this idea seriously many of us might end up spending most of the day in our socks– not a terrible prospect! Surely it would deepen our appreciation of the immeasurable enrichment that exists when sharing our lives with others.
Recently I received an email from a parent. Another colleague had asked this parent to reflect on the question of diversity at a Jewish day school. The question was prompted by the recognition that many prospective parents question whether Jewish day schools can have true diversity and prepare children to live in our blessedly diverse world. Her response, which I quote below, left me contemplating my socks:
On the subject of diversity: every child is unique! This uniqueness is not established by skin color, religious beliefs or by clothing, but by what comes from inside them. Originally this was something that was said to me regarding uniforms. How can the kids express who they are if they all dress the same? Realizing that kids at Davis learn how to express themselves by words and actions, and cannot depend on an article of clothing to do so was very enlightening! Most people/children seek out others like themselves when forming relationships. At Davis, my children have found friends that are like them because of similarities in personality, not the fact that they are the same in a sea of external differences or diversity… If anyone is hesitant [to send their children to Davis] because of diversity or focus on religion, I would say then that is exactly why they should send their children. Where diversity is something the children create from within, without losing what connects them to each other, it prepares them for whatever challenges- academic or social- they may eventually encounter.
Each of us is daily inundated with emails, phone calls, and conversations; we’re participants in an endless social process. Hopefully amidst the ever flowing current of communication that washes over us, we can all pause to acknowledge the moments when we receive something truly special and holy. Attuning ourselves to these daily glimpses of sacred light might even make our favorite pair of shoes last a little longer.