Tammuz 5755 July 7, 1995 by Mark Burger
The government agency where I am employed is undergoing major changes. A large, lumbering bureaucracy, it may wind up disappearing. This will result in thousands of jobs eliminated, replicating the fate of other public and private sector organizations. There is a lot of cynicism, denial, fatalism and other examples of how or non-existent morale. What bothers me most, however, is the almost complete lack of leadership. in fact, there is little for what would pass as management or administration.
I have read how a crumbling workplace can affect health, relations, even life itself. It has caused me to slip away from things, including a falloff in practicing Judaism. In preparing for this service, I read this week's Torah portion for inspiration. Between the Red Heifer and warfare, I came upon chapter 20 of Numbers. The chapter starts off with Miriam's death, Israel whining for water, Moses striking the rock for water, losing control of the situation with Aaron and the ability to enter the Promised Land, being prevented from crossing Edom and ending with Aaron's death.
Not very inspiring. Nevertheless, the chapter drew me. Here was a collapse of leadership, with Adonai having to come in to clean house. I felt relevance here with my situation. I envisioned myself one of the Israelites, seeing my leaders dying figuratively and literally. What would have gone through my mind and heart to see Moses and Aaron on their faces in despair before a mob, yelling at them, and groveling before an enemy? There were no management consultants, professional facilitators or jargon-encrusted memoranda braying about empowerment, re-engineering or customer satisfaction. Our hands were not held and patted by $200 per hour consultants saying everything will be fine, while the hammer comes down.
No, there was none of that in this Torah portion. My worm's eye view as an Israelite traveling with the tribes would have experienced chaos, unsettlement and anxiety. But there was leadership. If it wasn't leadership from Miriam or Aaron, there was leadership from Moses. And if leadership was slipping from Moses, you could see leaders being developed in people like Eleazar. And if there wasn't leadership from any of those folks, there was leadership from Adonai.
I have read many books and seen and heard many tapes on management, organization and the like. My own favorite is Tom Peters, primarily because he's something of a tactical anarchist. He's not very systematic. Peters keeps tossing out stories and examples like cherry bombs. He speaks more in midrashic terms than anybody else. One of his sayings "Crazy times call for crazy organizations" is very appropriate for a ragtag collection of tribes moving about a wilderness. Underscoring Peters' examples is that there is no substitute for leadership. All the consultants, organization charts and empowerment workshops won't atone for that deficit. Israel survived, and is surviving, thousands of years of seeming chaos because of that leadership. The leadership that is in each one of use to provide and to accept. Amen.