Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Sh’lach L’cha

We build walls and fences around us. Sometimes we build them intentionally to protect us from some outside threat or influence. Sometimes they get built purely because we make choices as we walk through the world. These choices open and close doors as we go. When in a position of leadership, no matter how broadly we want to focus on the totality of the organization, we are limited in what we can see …and even by what we can do with what we see. In 1940, Mac and Dick McDonald opened a BBQ stand. Over the next twelve years plus, they evolved the menu into a hamburger and french-fry drive in. A milkshake machine businessman, Ray Kroc, saw in the rudiments of what the brothers created, a potential goldmine. Dick and Mac were reluctant to grow the business. He bought them out and within a short period, launched the largest international restaurant chain in history. How did he do it; he was only a milkshake machine manufacturer? He surrounded himself with experts who understood facets of the rest of the business.

Way back in the Torah story, just after leading the people out of Egypt, Jethro (Moses’ father in law) told Moses that he could not do it all by himself. He had to delegate responsibilities to people who would keep in communication with him over the process of running the community. Moses appointed judges and relied on the tribal chiefs to handle the day to day communal operations. The Torah contains stories wherein this process worked in some situations and failed miserably in others. Perhaps this system’s greatest failure takes place in this week’s portion.

As the people approached the River Jordan and the gateway into the promised land, Moses (with God’s blessing) called on the chieftains of each tribe to form a committee to go into the land to do reconnaissance work. Their task was to check out the habitability of the land, as each tribe would inherit their piece. Twelve “spies” went in, confident that God had brought them to their destiny … Israel. They observed the most luscious of fruit and the mightiest of trees. Joshua and Caleb said, “WOW! Praised be God who brings us to this place of grandeur!” The other ten said, “WOW! There must be giants living here! There is no way we beat back the giants. We would rather go back to Egypt.”

Now, the people were more moved more by the fear of the ten than the amazement of the two. As they reported from their perspectives, Caleb and Joshua spoke about the amazing gift God put before them. The others filled Israel with fear that the unseen giants who inhabited the land would destroy the nation. The people resonated with the fear mongering and rebelled against Moses. They refused to cross into the land. Incensed by Israel’s lack of faith, God made Israel wander for 40 years before bringing them back to the Jordan River.

A leader’s success depends on the team the leader compiles. Ray Kroc was successful because of his team. Archie Manning was one of the greatest and most versatile quarterbacks to have ever played, but his New Orleans Saints were at best average … making his legacy that of an average quarterback. Conversely, we have watched average players reach stardom because of their supporting cast. We can make the same arguments for government … and for any organization.

We call Moses “Moshe Rabbaenu – Moses, our teacher.” There is no question that the persona of Moses provides amazing examples of how to patiently (and not so patiently) lead. Sometimes we learn from our successes and other times, from our failures. The goal, though, is for us to learn.

The truth is that even the most talented of leaders needs a committed and competent leadership team. The tribal chieftains failed Moses (and God). The real tragedy is that the people also failed in their own leadership responsibility. Each had heard from Moses that God promised this amazing land. Each ignored all that they had heard in the face of fear. Each member of the team is an absolutely essential cog in the wheel, and if one piece fails, the whole wheel becomes unstable. Where we allow ourselves to be so insecure that we lose faith, we fail. We need each other, and not one of us can function without each other’s commitment. We have to have faith to move forward with each other; holding supporting, bolstering, and even pushing each other. Hand in hand we grow from strength to strength. Shabbat shalom.