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JCF Blog

G-d Whispers

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 10/31/2016

There are two ways of keeping warm on a cold winter’s night. You can wear a heavy coat or light a fire. Wear a heavy coat and you warm yourself. Light a fire and you warm others as well. 

It seems to me that this is the essence of what it means to be a Jewish leader. We are called upon to be the kindling that lights the fire. There is something different about Jewish leadership – a unique moral and ethical framework and a special set of obligations. Part of our task is to make the world better and as leaders to find a way to give warmth to everyone. And not just now; we have to keep the fire going for the future as well. 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book on leadership (“Lessons in Leadership: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible”) suggests that “the most lasting tangible act of leadership is the creation of an institution… that continues to exert moral leadership and foster needed social change long after the creative leaders are gone.”

To do this, leaders must build not only infrastructure, but future leaders. The business world has known this for a long time. Jack Welch once said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.  When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

In service to the Jewish community, however, this investment in future leaders entails something deeper and more significant. It requires that we teach the core values through which we see the world. These values include not only our obligation to help repair the world, but our belief that every person’s opinion carries value.    

In his book, Rabbi Sacks argues that all truly important change is the work of more than one generation. If true, none of us are likely to see the full benefit of our current endeavors. We are simply planting the carob tree which will bear fruit for future generations. However, that tree will whither and die if there is no one to tend it. Therefore, one of the most important tasks of leaders may be to produce the next generation of leaders – those that will tend the carob tree. 

To cultivate those leaders, we must believe in them. In fact, Rabbi Sacks’ fundamental lesson of Jewish leadership is that “it does not matter whether they believe in you. What matters is that you believe in them.” 

If we listen to our next generation of leaders, let them know that we believe in them, give them room to experiment, and help them up (without judgment) when they stumble and fall, we will have done our job in preparing for the future.  

 “Don’t wait for me”, whispered G-d to Abraham, “Go on ahead.”  As Rabbi Sacks says, “That is what G-d whispers to all of us, and in the going is the blessing that confers moral beauty on life.”

Perhaps our job is just to listen to the whispers and allow those that will follow us to go on ahead. 

   Michael Johnston is the President and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford.
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