Posted on March 31st, 2014

From the President: Reflections on the Leadership Meetings

Debbie NiedermanThe parasha we shared during our recent kallah, parashat Shemini, tells a gripping and poignant story about the challenges of leadership. The story begins with an awesome event: In chapter 9:6  Moses said to Aaron before the entire community gathered at the front of the Tent of Meeting:

“This is what the Lord has commanded that you do, that the Presence of the Lord may appear to you.”

In giving his instruction to Aaron, Moses said, “Approach the altar,” to perhaps indicate that Aaron was standing at a distance from it, reluctant to come near. The sages suggest that: “Initially Aaron was ashamed to come close [but] Moses said to him, ‘Do not be ashamed. This is what you have been chosen to do.'”

Aaron appears to be a tentative and cautious leader, but as the story unfolds, we see that perhaps this initial event served to embolden two of Aaron’s sons. Just verses later, Nadav and Abihu “offered a strange fire, that had not been commanded” (Lev. 10: 1)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches that [Nadav and Abihu] failed fully to understand that there are different kinds of leadership and they are not interchangeable. What is appropriate to one may be radically inappropriate to another… Confuse these roles and not only will you fail. You will also damage the very office you were chosen to hold.

In the story, Aaron and his sons appear to be opposites. Aaron was over-cautious and…Nadav and Avihu were not cautious enough. These are two of the challenges leaders must overcome: the fear of greatness and being convinced of your greatness.

In NATE our leaders struggle with this dichotomy as well. Below are highlights from our recent Leadership Meetings which followed the kallah. At those meetings we discussed many important changes, new initiatives and new directions for NATE. As leaders, we are working hard to meet the needs of our members given the rapidly changing world in which we live. I will close this introduction with the same words with which I closed my d’var last month:

Jewish education in North America is in a time of flux and NATE must respond. We want to know what is changing for you, in your role and we want to know how NATE can help you address those changes so that you can hold on to your enthusiasm and your passion. Because now is a time for action, it is my hope that we can learn from the actions of all three priests described in this week’s parasha. Some of our actions must be measured and must follow prescribed standards. Some of our actions must be bold – driven by the passion that inspires us to do this sacred work despite the challenges. Let us be mindful of our limitations, but let us not be afraid of the greatness we can achieve together.