Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Crisis in Leadership, Nothing New

The three Tanach classes I've been taking in Matan are really great, but in the long run, of the three, it's the "independent study" class which probably will have the greatest impact on me.  Al HaPerek is a program that plans on our learning (not their teaching us) the entire Bible within a few years.  I forget how many exactly.

Each week we're given study/thinking questions on two chapters.  We've started with Joshua.  Both men and women can sign up.  You can be anywhere in the world.  You can study alone, with a partner or a group.  You can communicate in person, phone, email or various chats/skypes etc.  You can request that the questions be in either English or Hebrew.  They may be adding additional languages.

This week we're studying Joshua, Chapters 7-8.  Until Chapter 7, it's all so upbeat, and then we were defeated in Ai and Joshua goes into deep mourning.  I'm no expert in Tanach, so even if I had read it before it felt new, and I, too, got depressed by the story.  Then I read Chapter 8, but I couldn't absurb it.

Today my study partners and I got together to work on them and suddenly my mind cleared.  Our defeat in Ai was more than just cowardice on the part of our soldiers.  There was no leader.  No place in the text does it say who was leading the few thousand soldiers into Ai.  Joshua's handpicked spies reported that it should be an easy victory and only a small amount of the soldiers were necessary, but that ended up being a very dangerous, fatal mistake.  Thirty-six soldiers were killed and the Jewish soldiers fled in fear.

Then G-d spoke to Joshua and told him what had to be done.  Joshua and all of the soldiers re-entered Ai, and suddenly everything was different.  G-d gave orders and Joshua communicated them to the people.

This brought me back to a very significant memory.  It was only a year or two after the 1967 Six Days War.  I was still a university student in New York.  HaRishon L'Tzion, the Chief Sefardic Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Nissim came to New York.  He spoke in Yeshiva University to YC and Stern College students.  Dr. Belkin, head of YU, introduced him.  In the Hebrew-language introduction he proudly boasted that there are many Yeshiva University students and graduates in Israel.  HaRav Nissim quickly interrupted:
בארץ אומרים אחרי,  Ba'Aretz omrim acharai.   In Israel we say "after me."

G-d allowed Joshua the chance to use his free will, and he made mistakes.  He allowed his two spies to make tactical decisions on how to conduct the battle.  He sent the soldiers to battle without leading them, and he didn't ask G-d for advice.  People need leadership.  Most of us are always searching for someone to make the big decisions to tell them what to do.  Joshua projected his own strength onto the people and overestimated their capabilities.  Luckily, G-d gave him a second chance.  We don't always get a second chance. 

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