Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yitro - Finding the Leaders in our lives

Dave Burnett painting a bomb shelter in northern Israel, Dec 2006.

Great leadership follows three key principles:
  1. Know Yourself.
  2. Know the value of servant leadership.
  3. Know your values and do not deviate from them.
One leader that certainly heeded these rules was Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the greatest leaders and orators of all time, King became the spiritual leader of the United States during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. When he spoke, King tied current events with biblical imagery, often using it in new ways -- and Jewish ways, as well.

But did people follow King only for his speeches? No, sir. King led with his heart, and people respected him for that. They saw that he understood his own powers and limitations. He led by example, being arrested several times for refusing to back down in peaceful protest. And no matter what, King never deviated, even until the end. In his final speech, delivered the night before he was assassinated, King recommitted himself and his mission to action through non-violence.

In his final speech King states:
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

In this speech, King draws a direct parallel between himself and Moses, the leader of the Hebrews, the one who went to the Mountaintop and looked out into the Promised Land. What did Moses see? How did it relate to what King saw?

Moses was one of King's heroes.

And the two had a lot in common, especially in terms of the tenets laid out above:

1. Moses knew himself.
Unlike King, Moses was not a great orator. Therefore, Moses kept his bro Aaron with him at all times. Aaron was the great communicator; Moses was the visionary. Without each, it would be a stretch to believe that the Hebrews would have made it to the promised land.

2. Moses knew the value of servant leadership.
The people did not just follow Moses blindly. They saw the work he put in. They saw that Moses was willing to submit himself to the Lord and no other. No body worked harder. This is the Michael Jordan rule:
I never took a day off. If I took a day off, then Scottie was going to take a day off. And then Horace. The next thing you know, the whole scope of what we’re trying to do is being weakened. I never took a shortcut, and I never wanted anyone else to take a shortcut. If that meant someone interpreted me as a tyrant, I’m pretty sure they’re appreciative now.
Michael Jordan worked the hardest. He set the example, and his teammates followed him. Moses was the Michael Jordan of the ancient Hebrews and he got them to the Promised Land.

3. Moses stayed true to his values.
He stayed true to God, even when he felt he was being pushed, put in uncomfortable positions and even when he was told he would never be able to enter the Promised Land.

Moses did not do it all by himself. He had Aaron, his "Scottie." He also had plenty of other helpers, other role players. One of these was his father-in-law Yitro. In the Parsha bearing his name, Yitro shows up to greet the triumphant Moses.
Hey Moses, so yeah ... I always thought you were a great guy a real wonderful new addition to our family. I have brought my daughter, your wife, to be with you.

Uhhhh ... yeah, sure. Now you want me as your son-in-law. All I had to do was part the Red Sea and lead thousands to freedom. Your daughter is great, but seriously -- you need me to move water for your approval?

(to YITRO)
Thanks, pop.
Yitro decides to spend a day with the Hebrews and observes Moses in action. Moses, the one that split the Red Sea. And after one day of observation, he immediately has advice for his son-in-law.

At the time, Moses was spending a large part of his day amongst the people, hearing their problems, teaching the Law, and passing judgment. Yitro felt like Moses was taking too much time to do this, and advised Moses to divide the people up by finding upstanding men to act as judges. Yitro felt Moses would be burned out if he kept up at the same pace every day.

Now, Moses was not only a visionary, but also a great listener and a follower. Should he have taken Yitro's advice? It is true that Moses was busy, but what about what Moses's teacher and guide (Comissioner G-O-D) wanted? Was God sending a message to Moses through Yitro? Was this a test?

A day or so later, Moses is charged with gathering the Hebrews together and getting them ready for the coming of the Lord, the moment when God reveals himself to the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai. Then Moses goes up to the Mountaintop to receive the Ten Commandments.

This is a heavy burden for anyone to handle, even Moses.

King handled a heavy load as well. But the two had vision. They had purpose. They had a love of life. They also both died before seeing their visions fulfilled.

Life doesn't always turn out the way that we want. Children die everyday. Great leaders are shot down at the podium. Millions of Jews perished needlessly in the Holocaust.

I just spent time in Lublin, Poland where I learned about Rabbi Meir Shapiro. Rabbi Shapiro was another great leader, one who pushed his physical and mental limits to benefit the Jewish people. He taught, he served in government, he revolutionized the way Jews across the world related to each other through study. And he died at a very young age (in his 40s).

Why was his life taken so early? Rabbi Shapiro died in the shadow of the Holocaust. Did he die so that he would not have to suffer? Wouldn't his leadership be needed to inspire his people to get through hard times? These questions remained unanswered. But the riddle remains.

Death is a riddle.

Recently, a peer of mine, Dave Burnett, passed away while hiking in Jordan.

Dave was an amazing friend and passionate leader. Rarely have I seen one so full of life. Where Moses led with vision and King led with communication, Dave led with spirit.

Dave was always surrounded with people. We were drawn to him. To be in Dave's presence was infectious. While together, you knew you would have fun and for a while be as full of life as he was.

Just like all great leaders, Dave knew himself, knew how to be a servant leader and knew his values. He did not deviate from these principals.

Sometimes a candle that burns brightest also burns the quickest. It is a shame that his wick did not last longer, but the light that he provided will shine on for a long time.

Dave was on his journey to the Mountaintop. He wanted to combine his love of his country, Australia, with his love of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide. Dave had a vision. And as we just celebrated the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. on his day, and as we read about Moses in Parsha Yitro and elsewhere in the Torah, so too must we celebrate the lives of other leaders in our lives.

Moses and King are prevalent images in our minds, but they are not attainable. Our friends and the leaders in our everyday lives are the ones that we can touch. The ones that make leadership real for us.

By knowing Dave, working with him, talking to him and having him in my life, I can truly say that I am better able to connect to the meaning of leadership, to my heroes and to Judaism.

Thank you Dave. You will be missed.

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