A Leader By Choice

April 8, 2013
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Leaders are at the core of our Jewish past, present, and future. While in every story of greatness, from Joseph to Moses, David to Solomon, Noah to Jonah, Rachael to Miriam, Ben-Gurion to Golda Meir, and the lesser known heroes that build our future every day, a choice was made. Each was given the option of their own destiny, to rise to a challenge, though often compelled by signs, a final decision came from the individual. As it is written, those are the rules, as we dip bread in salt, a symbol of the covenant, free will, we always have choice.

Thus from the beginning, leaders have had the choice to step into their role or not, and those we know of have often done so against all odds. In the end their path seems obvious, but the journey rarely is; to step forward into a land where none have yet tread, risking in a vision from beyond, for ultimately people are most inspired not by a great person, but through the vision they share. The true wonder is the resolve of such individuals to say: “I will walk my own way. For better or worse, this is my path.” An example in story:

Picking up the Staff

A man learns of his history, picks up a staff, and says, “Let my people go!” He didn’t have to. He was given vision in the desert from holy fire, but the family that raised him called him back to their fold, he replied “Let my people go!” The family he had regained was then forced to suffer, and lashed back at the man for their reprisals, but steady was his vision, steady his faith.

“Let my people go!” and the gates of heaven burst to strike at enemies, while his heart broke to see the suffering his old brother was put through. “Let my people go!” And they finally were. Through the desert they walked and the sea opened to consume the past. They’d made a choice and there was no going back. Under the mountain they danced and indulged, their illusions broken by tablets, spread as dust to the sands – if I’d seen the waters part would I have entered the light? Would I have made that choice?

And they marched for 40 years, through doubt and turmoil, manna and drought, to the holy land, where the leader of many years, a man who’d picked up a staff, made a choice to hit a stone twice instead of once, and was denied entry to his people’s new home.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Moses made a choice to fulfill a role, to do all he had, and in the end chose to question all he’d seen. But was there some fate involved? Will the messiah have such a choice? Some say that the divine purpose of free will is to allow us to access the beauty of choosing be closer to God. The path, though so uncertain, with answers hidden by a shroud, with questions left unresolved, this challenge – is part of the gift.

In my own small way, I know this, as I believe all of us know as we look at our dreams and choose to risk all, or not. Because of this, as we remember the suffering of the Jewish people during Pesach, let us also remember all of the suffering faced by peoples throughout the world, and remember the heroes, the leaders, the small acts of courage made to right it. Let us bring honor to those in our lives that make the choice everyday to help, because they don’t have to, and in our own way, may we look to a distant vision, and choose well.

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Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, writer, and social good project developer as well as a recent graduate of NYU's Environmental Conservation Education masters program. Lee has also studied at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan, Israel and at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Currently he has been leading development of the Global Action Classroom, an Earth Child Institute initiative focused on global youth environmental cooperation and helping to create the Global Sustainability Fellows, a program of The Sustainability Laboratory seeking to design a new and innovative, international sustainability masters program. Other projects include: developing mobile applications for encouraging social action, mixed media video design, leading peace and environmental education workshops, and doing his best to live a life in connection with the Earth while helping others to do the same. At heart Lee is a poet, traveler, musician, and philosopher with a deep curiosity for new experiences, unfamiliar cultures, learning languages, and often dancing to the beat of a different drummer. As student of yoga, meditation, and spiritual arts, Lee aims to connect the inner journey with the outer one, hoping, as he can, to share what is learned along the way, enjoying the journey.

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