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Pinhas 5782 - Forward-Thinking Leadership

Friday, July 22, 2022 - 23 Tamuz, 5782

We will not be here forever. While we’ve had this conversation before regarding end-of-life planning, one of the most difficult parts about grasping the reality of our impermanence is envisioning and preparing for the world we want to see when we’re gone. While that envisioning and preparation may seem like lofty, inaccessible ideas, we can also see them at a smaller scale. Even if we’d like to stay in our jobs and volunteer positions until the day we die, family circumstances and physical abilities may change. We may change our paths in ways we would never have expected years ago. It’s hard to imagine what our workspace, organization, or home will be like without our presence, and yet, we have the power and responsibility now to ensure that our vision for this place keeps progressing long after we are gone.

When Moshe finds out that he will not survive the journey to the land of Israel, he takes action to preserve the vision of Israelite life that God has set out for the people the past forty years. In Parashat Pinhas, he asks God, “Let Adonai, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that Adonai’s community may not be like sheep who have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17). Moshe knows the importance of appointing a successor and training him early. God, then, offers him and the people Joshua, a trusted member of the Israelite community. Throughout Moshe’s leadership, even before he knows about his impending death, Moshe gives most of God’s instructions not only to the elders, the priests, or to the individual tribes those instructions concern, but to all of the Israelites. All of the Israelites, then, may stay accountable to one another in implementing God’s plans in the Holy Land. Finally, in the fast-approaching book of D’varim (Deuteronomy), instead of hiding himself in his work or isolating himself from the community, Moshe uses his upcoming death as an opportunity to reiterate to the Israelites everything he has learned from God. As Moshe knows he is mortal, he does not shy away from preparing for the future he has worked so hard to develop.

We, too, can prepare for the time in which we are no longer present. In our workplaces and organizations, we can train the people around us to take on some of our roles, so that if we are ever unavailable, no one will be left in the dark. We can let our peers know our goals for the future of our workplaces and organizations, so that even if we do not implement those goals before our time is up, someone else may take on the challenge in years to come. Taking an example from our two previous office managers, we can write detailed descriptions of what we do, how to do it, and the resources necessary for follow-through, so that no one has to scramble to take our place. 

On a more basic, but even more crucial level, we teach our children how to take care of themselves - how to cook, clean, do laundry, and keep a job - long before it’s their time to embark on their own. Early on, as much as we can, we shape the values they hold to match the world we envision for their future. Beyond our children, we let friends and family know our priorities, so that they can help finish the tasks we have started.

Preparing for just a few months of parental leave is a daunting task. Already, I find myself unable to physically do many of the things I could weeks ago. Yes, this congregation thrived almost 120 years without my presence, and many of those years were without rabbinic leadership. This congregation will be more than fine for three months, and I will observe from a distance as you creatively worship and celebrate together. And yet, I find myself thinking about the values and programs I want to preserve both over those three months and for years to come. As a congregation, how can I put safeguards in place so that my visions for this place both stay and expand should I ever be unavailable to implement them. I encourage you, too, to think about the projects you have implemented here and the visions you have. 

If there is something you have started here that only you know how to preserve, now is the time to train others to follow in your footsteps. If there is something of which you have dreamed for this congregation and have not been able to implement, now is the time to share those dreams with fellow community members. At work, at home, in our Jewish community, and in the wider world, let us see Moshe as an example of how to prepare for a future without us. Most likely, and please God, none of us here are dying tomorrow, and yet, any number of positive or negative circumstances may bring us somewhere else in time soon to come. Today, let us share our visions, both theoretical and practical, so that they can flourish beyond our wildest imaginations tomorrow. Shabbat Shalom

Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784