Rosh Hashanah 5780

What is your Passion?

Shalom and Shana Tova,

I would like to ask you to think about a question: What are you passionate about? What gets you all fired up in a conversation or when you read something? Passion about a subject is what moves us to act to make change in the world; to do our part for Tikkun Olam. We all know what passion for something feels like. We recognize the tingle and thrill combined with the fear and uncertainty we feel. The trick is what we do about it. The action that comes out of that passion is the realizing of those goals.

In considering how to realize the goals that we are passionate about, we can find some insights in leadership literature. Henry Cloud, in his book Integrity, argues that wholeness of character is what is needed to act in integrity. He uses a metaphor of the wake behind a boat as it goes through the water. Those of you who know me will not be surprised at the nautical metaphor. To Cloud, the boat is you, or more precisely your character. The water is your impact on the world. When a boat moves through the water, it produces two-sided wake, when a boat goes straight the wake is evenly sized left and right. Consider that one half of the wake represents the emotions our presence leaves behind as we move through the water of life. The other half represents the results, or actions we leave behind. Cloud argues that to act in integrity and move positively toward our goals, our wake must be balanced. That is how we head straight toward our goals.

We all know people who are all drama and high emotion, but do not actually get a whole lot done. These people have unbalanced wake, with the emotion side high and the results side very low. This boat will not move straight through the water. It will likely go in circles and the goals that this person strives for will likely not be met. We also know people who are clear and focused and get a lot of things done, but they are hard to get close to and do not emotionally pull us in. These people are destined to go in circles as well, with their results wake high and their emotional wake low. In order to take people along with us to realize our goals and passions, we need a balance of emotional intensity and committed action to move straight toward our goals, so says Cloud.

That is one metaphor of how we can think about leadership, let’s look at a viewpoint from a yiddishe kopf. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks discusses Jewish leadership from a biblical and modern Jewish lens. He argues that leadership in Judaism consists of three beliefs: we are free, we are responsible, and together we can change the world. From these three core beliefs, we can understand that leadership is not a solitary journey; we must take it together and take others along with us. Sacks asks us to reach outside of our Jewish communities to wider communities to help us achieve our goals. He asks us to seek commonality with our non-Jewish friends to overcome obstacles. Finding common ground, Sacks argues, is a powerful tool. In joining with others we can achieve our important goals.

Sacks also stresses that one of the key differences between Jewish leadership and secular leadership is that we prefer leadership of influence rather than leadership of power. Power pushes, while influence entices. Power lifts the leader above the people and is dominant. Jewish leadership of influence is about respect and inspiration and working together. Sacks argues that we need prophets for vision, kings for strength, and priests for religious/legal direction. No one person or kind of person can lead alone and encompass all of those qualities and perspectives. Jews lead together with fellow Jews and with non-Jews, we need all of the skills and points of view to move effectively in a straight path toward our goals.

As we reflect on the year gone by to inform our year to come, consider your wake and if it is in balance. Is your boat going in circles because you are overly emotional or overly task oriented? Consider who is riding in that boat with you? What role you will take on in leading your life goals and the goals of our people forward? How will you inspire the passions in other people in your life, and where will your passions lead you?

Shana Tova u’mitukah

Shelli Asher