If Hashem appeared to you and called upon you to lead, how would you respond? That is the question that I asked our 8th graders this week, the very same question that משה faced in the first test of his fledgling leadership of the Jewish people. I was shocked by our students reflections:
“I would be nervous that the stakes were too high and failing would mean severe repercussions.”
“I would be overwhelmed by knowing that I would be the first leader and, therefore, judged in a far harsher way.”
“I would wonder if I was worthy enough to be called upon to lead.”
These were direct quotes from our students AND from משה himself.
The third and fourth chapters of פרשת שמות play out like a parent attempting to get their children to complete their homework independently. Back and forth, משה comes up with every excuse possible short of saying no to Hashem.
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים מִ֣י אָנֹ֔כִי כִּ֥י אֵלֵ֖ךְ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְכִ֥י אוֹצִ֛יא אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃
Moshe said to Hashem, “Who am I to go to Pharoah and take out the Jewish people from Egypt?” - Shemot 3:11
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶל־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֗ים הִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֣י בָא֮ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ וְאָמַרְתִּ֣י לָהֶ֔ם אֱלֹהֵ֥י אֲבוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם שְׁלָחַ֣נִי אֲלֵיכֶ֑ם וְאָֽמְרוּ־לִ֣י מַה־שְּׁמ֔וֹ מָ֥ה אֹמַ֖ר אֲלֵהֶֽם׃
Moshe said to Hashem, “I will go to the Jewish people and tell them that the god of your forefathers has sent me and they will reply ‘What is your name, we do not know you!’”
- Shemote 3:13
Moshe felt worthless, unable to step up to the task and simply convinced that it was beyond him to instill trust, faith and hope into the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. Just like Moshe, our students feel small and infinitesimal, thinking little of themselves and their ability to rise above and persevere.
Ultimately, after an intense back and forth between Hashem and משה, he finally acquiesces and gives into Hashem’s overture. If the greatest of our Jewish leaders thinks himself unworthy, how are we to inspire our Jewish youth to step into their leadership potential?
The RMBA Leadership just returned from the Prizmah Conference in Denver earlier this week. As we joined over 1,000 educators from over 300 schools, we gathered to explore our creative spirit and learn from experts in the field. On the final day of the conference, Tal Ben- Shahar, Harvard lecturer and author of the renowned book Happier, addressed the gathering and shared with us the secrets behind nurturing strong, resilient and productive leaders and students. What was the key factor? Recovery.
Tal explained that the levels of stress that our students are experiencing are at all time highs resulting in more students needing mental health services than ever before. As such, we work to develop resilience in our students. However, we don’t fully understand what that means.
Resiliency, as defined by science, is an object’s ability to bounce back from applied pressure and be restored to its original state. However, as human beings, we can’t ignore the stress and pressure that was applied to us. Resiliency, or antifragility, is the ability for someone to be exposed to stress and pressure and bounce back stronger and more capable. Antifragility is only possible if we are given the ability to recover and adapt to the stress that we experience. What does that have to do with משה? Everything.
Later in the book of שמות, we will see משה overwhelmed by the burden of leadership only to have his father-in-law, יתרו, come in to advise him how to find balance, time for recovery, so he can be a better version of a leader. This pressure to do it all and be it all hung over משה as he was conversing with Hashem. He did not feel he had the ability to carry it all on his shoulders alone. This is the same sentiment that our students expressed in class. Leadership and its demands are too much. We just can’t do it alone.
Yet, משה persevered. He found the ability to develop the resiliency to become antifragile and be able to navigate some of the trickiest leadership pitfalls that some of the most experienced Heads of Schools hope never to have to deal with. He did that by finding small moments to recover, to grow from the stress he was experiencing, and from developing the skills to be prepared for larger challenges that were on the horizon.
Our students struggle to slow down, to take a moment to breathe deeply, to take a stroll and enjoy Hashem’s beauty that exists all around us. Our job as educators and parents is to model and train our young leaders to develop this skill so that we can secure the future of Jewish leadership and help nurture the next משה.