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17 Oct 2017

Braving a New World – Part 2

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Finding the Leader Within

Wave in LightThe following is Part Two of a three part series. Part One, “Braving a New World: Noah, the Flood and Transformation,” analyzed the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.” It was spoken once to Adam and a second time to Noah. Now, Part Two compares and contrasts the specific language in those commands and then applies the differences to two general ways of being in the world and leadership styles.[1]

Elokim blessed them, and Elokim said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the heaven, and every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
– Genesis 1:28

(G-d said to Noah) “And now be fruitful and multiply, spread throughout the earth and multiply on it.”
– Genesis 9:7

My Discovery

I’ve been a renegade since kindergarten. And despite being forty-something (yes, yes!), the “stain” hasn’t faded. At school I was asked to paint my ideals in allegiance with the Nationalist (shhh… Apartheid) Government. At university, the invite was to become a card-carrying member of (shhh… shhh) the Communist Party. And in my forties, the big-wide-world beckons that I fade the rebel’s stain and dip myself in dyes of the Bourgeoisie. House, stocks, retirement fund…life insurance. All that stuff. Now, I’m not saying I wouldn’t mind a generous helping of material wealth. Go ahead, bring it on! But the – well – the institution, the regulations and expectations, the grey suits and minds, the sense that there’s a fixed way things are meant to be and that one ought never to rock the boat – even to swim with seaweed, let alone venture beyond the coral reef – it all repels me.

Given this inborn bent, I have stood at the rim of ideologies and gave up expecting of myself to buy into Corporate-Anything long ago. Certainly not “Corporate Religion.” Yet, despite myself, I’m a card-carrying member of the tribe: Shabbat, kosher food, the garb from wig to socks, and, I hope, different ways of speaking and thinking. I myself was taken by surprise, but the Truth of our heritage, the internal consistency and brilliance of the Torah and the way my innermost being resonated with the lawyers and saints of our tradition – it all compelled me forward.

Mind you, it wasn’t easy-come-easy-go. I had my “double agent” moments and felt there simply was no way to go forward, no means to buy into the “institution” of it all. Then I encountered a true leader, first through his teachings and later in person. I’d never met a leader as potent, whose presence filled a hall and seeped into the inner life of the audience. And simultaneously, I have never yet met a leader as devoid of ego or personal agenda, one who simply takes up no space at all. I have been able to efface myself to the Rebbe precisely because he has done ditto to me. The contradictory mix is what captivated me. Obviously, I needed guidance and instruction on my journey. But I also needed to know the guidance was coming from a place that was the diametric opposite of political campaigning and self-serving drivel couched as deep philosophy. I was open to having someone teach me the secrets of existence and how to live them. But I also knew deep in my gut that such truths would activate my true self rather than set me in a mold, or even worse, seduce my ego into recreating G-d in my image. My “inner renegade” needed a leader who both guided and empowered me.

The Making of a Leader

LeaderIt is a rare but ideal dynamic. The people we call leaders tend to flop between incompetence and control. The balance, that subtle fusion of top-down guidance and bottom-up empowerment is elusive. It reminds me of a quotation a friend emailed me some time ago: “Despite the mechanisms of promotion, you don’t become a manager because someone appointed you to be one. Hanging a title after your name and putting you at the top of the organization chart doesn’t make you a manager. That only makes you a boss.”

In the world today, concepts of power and leadership are changing and I think that opens up possibilities for transformation on a new and exciting scale. We’ve had centuries of autocratic rule and a couple hundred advocating the proletariat. From Pharaoh to Caesar to Napoleon, Stalin, Castro and the rest of the cast, there’ve been men (and a handful of women) who instituted rulings about the way the rest of us should live. Does anyone at all in history’s vast troupe of characters stand out as one the Torah would endorse? There are megalomaniacs in abundance and charlatans, too. But what of the visionaries? Do any of them fit the bill? The root-question here is what is the Torah ideal of authority? There’s leadership at the macrocosmic level of government, of community, of family and even of the individual in terms of self-regulation. If we want to do it right, we would do well to define what Jews view as an ideal system of governing.

Two Models: Genesis and The Flood

A perfect place to turn to is the verses we explored last week. One was the first commandment to the first couple and the second was the same command repeated to Noah 1657 years later.  Embedded within these statements are two modalities of leadership that apply across the board.

That first instruction articulates the purpose of humankind: “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” G-d tells Adam and Eve to populate the world with children and to fill it with the fruits of their good deeds, thereby making it a place where G-d’s presence can become manifest. Subduing, or civilizing, the world doesn’t mean shrinking the Amazon to the size of a city park. It means engaging with the world mindfully so that G-d’s presence is tangibly experienced wherever we go. G-d’s instruction makes Adam and Eve and all their offspring partners in the dynamic of creation, telling each of us forevermore, that as beautiful and wild as the wilderness may be, we each must bring sanctity and meaning to the world so that the universe itself will cry out, “There is nothing other than G-d.”[2]

When G-d repeats the command to Noah as he emerges from the ark, He seemingly says the identical thing. But in actuality, although the core intent is the same, the two verses each convey a unique aspect of the overarching mission to make the world a dwelling place for G-d. The wording in each is distinct. Through taking a close look at these differences, we can come to understand just how Torah views leadership.

In speaking to Adam at Creation, G-d adds the angle that he “subdue” the world. Later, in dialogue with Noah, He omits that slant – but adds that Noah and his offspring are to “spread through the earth and multiply on it.” Let’s take a look at the significance of these differences as they apply to our topic at hand.

The Genesis model of change is one of coercion. At the outset, the world was limited; one could almost say it was crude. The universe could not be elevated or refined because its wholeness existed as a result of the power of the Creator. In other words, the world itself, immune to influence from above, was not a vessel for G-dliness. Thus, G-d included the words “subdue it” in his instruction to Adam. The very concept of subduing indicates a situation where the other is not receptive. And G-d was letting Adam know that he’d have much “subjugating” to do. The verb captures the needs of the time.

The post-Flood model is different. The waters of the Flood and the divine service on the part of Noah cleansed, refined, and purified the world from deep within its core, thus making the world capable of receiving influence from above and doing real work from below. Once reality opened itself to being changed, the emphasis moved away from breaking the will of the world. Hence we don’t find the expression “subdue it” in the command to Noah. Any reservations about positively engaging with the world and making it into a dwelling place for G-d are removed. In fact, G-d adds the words “spread throughout the earth and multiply on it” to indicate that given the shift, there should be an increase in active effort on the part of all people to fulfill the mandate with which they have been charged.

Transformation from the Top Down

However, the Genesis modality is not entirely washed away by the waters of the Flood. It is, after all, the first command – the headquarters. As such it captures, in all its details, the principal purpose for which we were created. That means there’s something positive in the expression “subdue it.” We should be wary of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As we established last week, there was a need for a world that first existed in a lowly, non-receptive manner. It is precisely the separateness of creation from Creator that allows for the song of “there is nothing other than Him,” because only when there is an a priori antithesis to unity is the resulting Oneness verified from every angle. Thus, the positive implication in the expression “subdue it” is that we have the ability to harness and bring under our control the most base levels of the world. It captures the full extent of our mission on earth.

In this service itself we have the two categories of Genesis-subjugation and Flood-transformation. At any stage of growth, whether of political revolution or shifts within a family’s dynamics, there is an entity which resists change. It could be a voice within you, a child or student, a colleague or disgruntled staff, a nation in financial turmoil, an aggressor. In each case, the leader, the person desiring change, is up against resistance. One part of the process is change by force, however subtle the directive may be.

It’s not an alternative we generally espouse but it is the one most of us actually choose most of the time. We wouldn’t quite call ourselves my-way-or-the-highway leaders. But that doesn’t change the reality. It’s top-down leadership and government as we know it. It’s the natural reflex of the planet after thousands of years of war and domination.

This is also the way of the wicked. And by that we mean not only those who seek to impose themselves on others. “Wicked” includes the subjects who are unwilling to receive insight and truth. Take the ten generations from Adam to Noah for example. They resisted goodness to the point that the world became saturated with violent crime.[3] The culpable party according to Torah is not only our current politically correct choice of “dictator,” “demagogue,” “autocrat” or “abuser.” All parties in a relationship must take responsibility for where they are. By far and away, most of the people of Germany were willing participants in Genocide. Children can be abused but grown ups choose to be in a dance – whether in taking the lead or following another’s cue. As adults, we cannot excuse ourselves of the agreement to a dynamic or of the actions we choose to do.

Leader.2But despite these negative associations, this Genesis model of leadership should not be unilaterally cast out. There is positivity in the dynamic and sometimes it is the most desirable option. In certain situations, we must “go to war” and impose our vision despite the (stated) desire of the other. Sometimes people need to be saved from their very selves: a battle at Normandy, laying down clear expectations for a teen, an intervention for an addict… Each circumstance simultaneously resists and calls out for change.

Transformation from the Bottom Up

Then, subsumed within the overarching mission of the first commandment, is the post-Flood modality. This is service that involves co-opting the other. It’s grass roots politics where the people willingly accept their leader.[4] In fact, they are the ones who bring about his or her leadership. As our sages say, “There is no king without a nation.” He is still a king, elevated in vision and ability to guide the people, but the people have this remarkable potency. It is their voluntary and desiring acceptance or their leader that renders him or her a position of authority. This was the nature of the post-flood reality because at that time the world became able to receive Divine influence. In fact it began to desire that influence, anticipating a time of complete transformation. The model is characterized by peace, pleasantness and mutual agreement.

It also corresponds to the service of the righteous who both accept G-d’s will without resistance and who inspire others so that they voluntarily do what’s best. It would be analogous to co-opting a teen, a spouse, the school board, the people onto your bandwagon such that they are excited about what’s coming up.

The Perfect Model

So now, having flayed the two verses a little, we can come back to our discussion about leadership with more clarity. As I said, when it comes to leaders, they’re generally polarized – either heavy handed top-down personas or those who practice passive absence under the guise of bottom-up change that sometimes might even verge on anarchy or self-destruction. I’d said no to the finger-pointing dictators, even to their bland versions. And I’m unimpressed by feel-good, we-the-people groping in the dark managers, the leaders who really just follow the whims of a crowd that is often misguided by desire and self-love. No wonder then that I was captivated by the one person I’ve yet met who afforded me the greatest insights and direction from above and has simultaneously activated my fullest and truest self, setting it in motion from below. The leadership style is monarchy and grass roots rolled into one.

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Having established the general differences in modality, we are now poised to examine how these modalities apply specifically to men and women in part three.

[1] The concepts and flow of ideas is drawn from an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Noah, 5751 (see Sefer HaSichot 5751 Volume 1, Parshat Noah) I have both included analogies and extrapolated from the text in order to generate a tangible grasp of the themes.

[2] For a fuller understanding of these verses, refer to Part One of this series, “Braving a New World View: Noah, the Flood and Transformation.”

[3] Genesis 6:11

[4] See the wording of the blessing Emet v’Emunah, “they willingly accepted His Kingship over them.”

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