Saturday, June 4, 2011

This Little Light of Mine

My friend Rabbi Arnie Fertig is especially fond of the priestly blessing. As each student I tutor for bar or bat mitzvah goes up to the Torah on his or her special day, Arnie gives them that three-part blessing, and again at the end of the service, he gives it to the whole congregation:

May God bless you and keep you.

May God make God's face shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May God turn God's face toward you and grant you peace.

You could really examine each detail of this blessing and find it full of meaning. Today, at Nate Serisky's bar mitzvah, it was the beginning of the second line that struck me: "May God make God's face shine upon you." Sometimes when we look at an inspiring leader, we think they glow with an inner light. We make the mistake of thinking that they are uniquely brilliant. We could never be like them, we imagine, and we let ourselves be overshadowed. In dark times, we wait for someone else to show us the light.

When we think like that about leaders, we are making the same mistake people make when they think the moon is shining upon them. As we now know, contrary to centuries of folklore, the moon only reflects the light given to it by the sun. The few people who have stood on the moon and looked at the earth found that it, too, shone in the sky.

In the right circumstances, anyone can catch the divine spark and be a leader, illuminating the way for the rest of us. Any other idea of leadership is the merest moonshine. But so often, I know, I stumble along in the dark. When it happens to be me who lights the path, it does feel like a moment of grace, and a blessing. That's the blessing I wish for Nate, Tia, Brandon, Olivia, and my other students past and future: that for a moment, they bring clarity to us all.

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