The Weight of Leadership

January 30, 2013 9:35 am 0 comments

President Barack Obama delivered his second inaugural address Jan. 21, 2013. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

With the recent inauguration of an American president, another Israeli election, and heated issues about gun control against the background of another shooting on a college campus, we are all aware that leadership is being sorely tested and desperately needed.

At the same time, we understand the critical and symbiotic relationship between leaders and followers. As the Midrash in Deuteronomy Rabba 1:10 says, “A community is too heavy to carry alone.” We all carry it together.

In a beautiful poster produced for the “Visions and Voices” project of the Jewish nonprofit PJ Library, Danny Gordis offered his interpretation of the above Midrash. He writes of the power of solitary spiritual experiences that offer us much in the way of peace and growth but are limiting: “Alone, we may feel a special calm, but there is no one to challenge us, to urge us to further exploration or commitment. Alone, we have no one to model for us genuine courage, deeper commitment, engagement with people we hadn’t thought to include in our lives.” When we act together, God dwells in our midst.

This notion of the interconnectivity and interdependence of human beings in community is inspiring, but perhaps does not capture some of the pain of the Midrashic sentiment. We need each other, but no one person can carry the load. We all know leaders who shoulder an unfair burden of responsibility. They often initiate, advocate, and sign-on for tasks that others avoid. The phone rings, and they actually answer it. We move them from organization to organization because they are willing and committed. But, too often, they lead without sufficient help. This reading highlights the word “alone.”

Since we are thick in the Moses narratives in our Torah cycle, we can use insights from Exodus to help us understand another word in the Midrash: heavy.

When I read this, I thought instantly of another Midrash that has always moved me and sometimes moved me to tears. When Moses received the Ten Commandments in stone, how did he carry them and why, later, did he throw them? They were so heavy. They were so holy.

Moses lifted them with ease, with the adrenalin of excitement and passion. But when he saw the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, the tablets suddenly felt so heavy. They were heavy before, but driven by ambition and mission, he did not realize how heavy they truly were. He did not throw them. He dropped them in heartbreak when the people let him down. He suddenly became aware of just how heavy they were and just how tired he was.

The poet and artist, Brian Andreas, in his book Traveling Light, has a picture of a creature holding a pile of objects. Next to the drawing are the following words: “This is a giant block of whatever is most difficult for you to carry & trust me on this, you’ll carry it more times than you can count until you decide that’s exactly what you want to do most & then it won’t weigh a thing anymore.”

What Andreas points out in his little drawing/saying is that the very things which feel like a burden can become lighter for us when we decide we want to carry them. What the Midrash points out is that the very things that feel light to us can become a burden in the absence of love or in the presence of disappointment. All that we love—our families, our jobs, our volunteer commitments—all can become burdens when we feel their heaviness: taking care of children, caring for elderly parents, supporting employees who are struggling, being there for friends in need.

But we can also decide to lighten the load by changing our perspective and loving the burden until it no longer weighs a thing.

Dr. Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits. She is the author of In the Narrow Places (OU Press/Maggid); Inspired Jewish Leadership, a National Jewish Book Award finalist; Spiritual Boredom; and Confronting Scandal.

With the recent inauguration of an American president, another Israeli election, and heated issues about gun control against the background of another shooting on a college campus, we are all aware that leadership is being sorely tested and desperately needed.

At the same time, we understand the critical and symbiotic relationship between leaders and followers. As the Midrash in Deuteronomy Rabba 1:10 says, “A community is too heavy to carry alone.” We all carry it together.

In a beautiful poster produced for the “Visions and Voices” project of the Jewish nonprofit PJ Library, Danny Gordis offered his interpretation of the above Midrash. He writes of the power of solitary spiritual experiences that offer us much in the way of peace and growth but are limiting: “Alone, we may feel a special calm, but there is no one to challenge us, to urge us to further exploration or commitment. Alone, we have no one to model for us genuine courage, deeper commitment, engagement with people we hadn’t thought to include in our lives.” When we act together, God dwells in our midst.

This notion of the interconnectivity and interdependence of human beings in community is inspiring, but perhaps does not capture some of the pain of the Midrashic sentiment. We need each other, but no one person can carry the load. We all know leaders who shoulder an unfair burden of responsibility. They often initiate, advocate, and sign-on for tasks that others avoid. The phone rings, and they actually answer it. We move them from organization to organization because they are willing and committed. But, too often, they lead without sufficient help. This reading highlights the word “alone.”

Since we are thick in the Moses narratives in our Torah cycle, we can use insights from Exodus to help us understand another word in the Midrash: heavy.

When I read this, I thought instantly of another Midrash that has always moved me and sometimes moved me to tears. When Moses received the Ten Commandments in stone, how did he carry them and why, later, did he throw them? They were so heavy. They were so holy.

Moses lifted them with ease, with the adrenalin of excitement and passion. But when he saw the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, the tablets suddenly felt so heavy. They were heavy before, but driven by ambition and mission, he did not realize how heavy they truly were. He did not throw them. He dropped them in heartbreak when the people let him down. He suddenly became aware of just how heavy they were and just how tired he was.

The poet and artist, Brian Andreas, in his book Traveling Light, has a picture of a creature holding a pile of objects. Next to the drawing are the following words: “This is a giant block of whatever is most difficult for you to carry & trust me on this, you’ll carry it more times than you can count until you decide that’s exactly what you want to do most & then it won’t weigh a thing anymore.”

What Andreas points out in his little drawing/saying is that the very things which feel like a burden can become lighter for us when we decide we want to carry them. What the Midrash points out is that the very things that feel light to us can become a burden in the absence of love or in the presence of disappointment. All that we love—our families, our jobs, our volunteer commitments—all can become burdens when we feel their heaviness: taking care of children, caring for elderly parents, supporting employees who are struggling, being there for friends in need.

But we can also decide to lighten the load by changing our perspective and loving the burden until it no longer weighs a thing.

Dr. Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits. She is the author of In the Narrow Places (OU Press/Maggid); Inspired Jewish Leadership, a National Jewish Book Award finalist; Spiritual Boredom; and Confronting Scandal.

Editor’s note: This article is distributed with permission of Dr. Erica Brown. Subscribe to her “Weekly Jewish Wisdom” list at http://leadingwithmeaning.com.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    JNS.org – Many young Jewish artists struggle to define who they are personally, artistically, and religiously. Against the backdrop of that struggle, the recent Asylum Arts International Jewish Artists Retreat provided a space for some 70 young Jewish artists to explore Jewish ideas, to build community and a culture of reciprocity, and to learn skills to assist their career development. “We are trying to encourage and excite people to engage in Jewish themes,” says Rebecca Guber, director of Asylum Arts. [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    JNS.org – Has the era of large-scale biblical epics returned? Not since “The Ten Commandments” has there been so much torrential water on the big screen (not counting weather-related disaster films such as “The Impossible”) than in “Noah,” the latest blockbuster from writer and director Darren Aronofsky. “Noah” takes the traditional tale and splices it in an eco-friendly and psychologically driven plot. After Adam and Eve got booted out of the Garden of Eden and after Cain killed Abel, mankind [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.