Hey to the Chevra,
I’ve always been better with words than with numbers, but there is one lesson in math that I’ve learned really well, which is that it is much better to be a multiplier than a divider. It is so easy to be a cynic, a critic, a complainer. It is enormously difficult to be a good leader, to get and keep others on board. Whether in our family or our community a leader has to see the big picture, maintain a clear vision, have a good sense of direction and an understanding of what the goals are. A leader also has to respond to the day-to-day details, issues and occasional crises. She has to think about what is best for the group yet be sensitive to the needs of each individual. A leader needs to be structured but not rigid, firm but flexible. It’s a tall order for any person to fulfill.
Judaism teaches us how to invest in ourselves, in others, in our communities and the world. When we extend ourselves the benefit is exponential. The Torah reiterates that concept in so many different ways. If only it weren’t so difficult. Instead there are many challenges along the way and that is often what holds us back from stepping up to take responsibility.
In this week’s parsha, Parashat Beha’alotcha, Moses, who has extended himself over and over for the Jewish people, reaches his limit. In a moment of peak frustration, he tells G-d that this is not what he signed up for. He cannot shoulder the responsibility anymore. The Torah tells us, “Moses said to Hashem, ‘Why have You done evil to Your servant; why have I not found favour in Your eyes, that You place the burden of this entire people upon me? I alone cannot carry this entire nation, for it is too heavy for me!’ ” (Bamidbar/Numbers 11: 11, 14).
G-d’s response is a lesson in multiplication. No one should lead alone. The Torah tells us that G-d responds, “Gather to Me 70 men from the elders of Israel, who you know to be the elders of the people and its officers; take them to the Tent of Meeting and have them stand there with you. I will descend and speak with you there, and I will increase some of the spirit that is upon you and place it upon them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, and you shall not bear it alone” (Bamidbar/Numbers 11: 16, 17).
If you are an astute reader of Torah, you’ll notice that this appointment seems a bit redundant. Earlier in Parashat Yitro, Moses is advised to appoint elders to run the judicial system for the fledgling Jewish nation. Our rabbis explain that this group of elders is different. Their role is not to act as judges but to be more like a board or a leadership team. They are to share the weight of responsibility and to provide guidance and expertise. Rabbi Ellie Munk (1900-1981, Paris) explains that the elders selected were not necessarily chosen because of the depth of their Torah knowledge “but because of their character and experience. They were men of wisdom and understanding; they were also men of honesty and integrity, who were capable and G-d-fearing” (“The Call of the Torah”).
In the book “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders make Everyone Smarter,” (recommended at the most recent JWRP Leadership Conference) authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown capture the difference between those who contribute and those who deflate. They explain that Multipliers have the following characteristics: They attract talented people and use them at their highest point of contribution. They create an intense environment that requires people’s best thinking and work. They define opportunities that cause people to stretch. They drive sound decisions through rigorous debate, give other people the ownership for results and invest in their success.
Diminishers hoard resources and underuse talent. They create a tense environment that suppresses people’s thinking and capability. They give directives that showcase how much they know, make centralized, abrupt decisions that confuse the organization and drive results through their personal involvement.
One might think with the divine leadership of G-d and his dedicated servant Moses, there would not be a need for others to get involved. Yet the Torah reminds us that no one can or should lead alone. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains, “During the biblical era there were three different leadership roles: kings, priests and prophets. The king was a political leader. The priest was a religious leader. The prophet was a visionary, a man or woman of ideals and ideas. In Judaism, leadership is an emergent property of multiple roles and perspectives.”
One of the most amazing aspects of the JWRP vision is the focus on leadership development. If we are truly here to change the world, then we must step up to be leaders in our homes, our communities and beyond. As parents, our goal is to foster healthy growth, responsibility and caring in our families. That might start with encouraging our kids to bring their dirty dishes from the table to the sink. In our communities, we may have taken responsibility to champion a cause, but as we learn from this week’s parsha we cannot champion alone. We need others to be on board.
Taking cues from the Torah we learn to be Multipliers, to surround ourselves with good people who want to make a positive contribution for all the right reasons. Multipliers working with Multipliers will make an exponential difference. That is a lesson in math, and in leadership, that will promote change in our homes, our communities and the world.