I want to begin by clearing something up right away. Last week's blog post - about sacrificing chickens in our synagogue parking lot - was a joke. It was not true. We are NOT planning any such bizarre and incredibly tasteless ceremony (combined with Bless the Pets? How heartless do you think I AM???), I made the whole thing up. As I've done
every year of this blog-writing-business, my post right before the holiday of Purim was akin to something you might read for April Fool's Day. It's a tradition known as 'Purim Torah,' and is meant in jest, to lighten the mood and go together nicely with Purim costumes and reenactments of the story of Queen Esther. Humor's a tough thing though, right? Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes it falls flat. Hopefully, my Purim postings landed somewhere between making you raise your eyebrows and getting you to laugh out loud. And as long as I did better than a certain offending New York state assemblyman, I'm pleased...
This week, I want to switch gears a bit, and talk about the challenge of leadership. I've been following, with no small degree of fascination, the resignation today of Pope Benedict XVI. It may not come as much of a surprise to you that I'm not that familiar with papal procedures; though I do remember watching Benedict's election back in 2005.
In his final speech on Wednesday, Pope Benedict spoke about the utter lack of privacy of his office, and how his life has been completely given over to the church and his 'flock.' Very often we hear similar statements from public figures and world leaders, yet for some reason it's always compelling to hear yet another person echo this sentiment. As with most things in life, there's a give and take, and a system of rights and responsibilities. Fame, fortune, and a spot in the history books always sounds SO enticing, but behind the scenes it may demand great personal sacrifice and even heartache that isn't always visible from the outside.
One person who could certainly relate to what Benedict is going through right now is Moses! This week, we read about the terrible sin of the Golden Calf, where the people betray not only God, but Moses as well. And Moses is forced to play both sides and do a tremendous amount of damage control. He pleads with God to spare the people, and has to absorb the brunt of God's wrath. Meanwhile, he chastises the people for their transgression, while trying to slowly encourage them back to loyalty to God. People often imagine the primary role of a prophet is to predict the future.
Or perhaps they think of them as yelling at the people for their sins, or comforting them after calamity has struck. But one of the main responsibilities of the prophet is what some call 'standing in the breach,' serving as the intermediary between God and the people. When neither can take the full impact of the other, the prophet serves as the filter, halfway between the two sides. And boy, is it a tough job!
In his farewell speech, Pope Benedict lamented the state of the world, and all the pain, suffering, and scandals he had witnessed in his few years in the papacy: "there were also moments in which the waters were agitated and the wind contrary." And he couldn't help but wonder where God was in all of this, adding, "The Lord seemed to be sleeping." Not everyone can get away with accusing God of snoozing on the job... but not everyone feels it so personally, or has to make excuses for his 'Boss,' as the Pope does. Today's resignation reminds
us of the mixed blessing of leadership. It can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, but also heavily demanding and draining. Try and imagine what 'standing in the breach' might mean today? Do you ever find yourself there? Sometimes when we're able to picture ourselves in the shoes of another, and we can see the struggles and challenges they endure, we both appreciate how tough a time they have, and we value our own lot a little bit more. Might make you think twice about becoming a prophet, you know, if Someone ever made you the offer...
Photos in this blog post:
1. Image courtesy of Rabbi Gerber's iPhone (please don't tell Bev Weiner I killed her rubber chicken...)