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Words of Wisdom

By Rabbi Efrat Zarren-Zohar

Friday, July 15th, 2016 / 9 Tammuz 5776

The Triumph and Tragedy of Communal Service
In Parshat Hukkat (BeMidbar/Numbers 19:1-22:1), Moshe (Moses) just loses it.
G!D tells him to speak to the rock to get water, but Moshe hits the rock instead. As a result, the Holy One responds saying: "Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them." (Num. 20:12)
Leaving aside the issue I'll address in a future post about the punishment seeming to not fit "the crime," I'll pose a different question instead...
Why does Moshe finally lose his cool with the Israelites after all this time?
It's not clear. The complaints by the people are the usual litany where they remember the Old Country fondly (i.e., Egypt) and accuse Moshe of essentially leading them to their deaths in the wilderness, where there's a lack of water.
Their ingratitude is stunning, particularly given all the miracles they've seen and experienced! But that's nothing new-then or now, frankly.
And their passive aggressive accusations are quite tiresome when all they needed to do was simply ask Moshe to ask G!D to provide some water (which is essentially what the Holy One's response is when Moshe brings up the people's complaint). But this also is nothing new-then or now, frankly.
Maybe Occam's razor can help us out: The principle established by the logician William of Ockham in the 14th century. Like the Principle of Parsimony, this theory states that one should not make unnecessary assumptions and that the answer to a problem is often the simplest. (Urban Dictionary)
As with leadership in any area of life-work, parenting, friendship, policing, and so forth-people just lose it. Based on a hundred variables, the particular person in a leadership role at a particular place and time just loses their cool and bad things happen.
BTW that's not an excuse or a rationalization. Because leadership by definition means that the responsibility rests on you. Period. "The buck stops here" said President Truman's sign on his desk. And so it does.
And so leaders (which basically means all of us at some point in time) need to prepare themselves in the good times for the stress and pressures that inevitably come when dealing with other humans. Just like you practice firing your weapon so you can do it accuately at a moment's notice when your life is threatened, so we all must practice the middot (qualities) of patience, equanimity, restraint, compassion, tolerance and so forth during the "calm times" so we are equipped to exercize them at a moment's notice when the chips are down.
Each one of us has lost our cool at sometime in our lives. I say that with no need for the "probably" qualifier. Hopefully we weren't holding a gun or some other weapon. But those who do own and use guns have an added responsibility-difficult though it is-to train to use the gun with care and to train to use themselves with care.
That's what Leonard Pitts so ably wrote about in the Miami Herald recently ( the police are reflections of and representatives of ourselves, in all our latent racism, in all our frailties and weaknesses as a society. (See also Dr. Erica Brown's article for a slightly different message on the subject:
That's why I'm attending the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS) retreat next week as part of it's newest clergy cohort. IJS teaches us to how to meditate, how to practice self-care, how to take a pause, how to essentially be a better leader.
Maybe our police departments, our schools, our homes will be next? We can pray...and encourage.



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