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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 04_03_2014
04/03/2014 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
April 4, 2014

 

Leprosy is a subject no one likes to discuss. Today, it’s called Hansen’s disease, but it’s still leprosy. In Torah, it’s the stuff of a few chapters in Leviticus. The focus is on the High Priest who identifies the affliction in the body of a person. If the affliction is of a nature that requires healing, the High Priest orders the person to leave the community. After some days, the High Priest examines the afflicted person. If the affliction is healed, then the person reenters the community after a proper offering is made.

                What is the offering? Torah teaches (Leviticus 14:4), “The priest shall order two live pure birds, cedar wood, crimson stuff, and hyssop to be brought for the one to be purified.” Midrash asks and answers, “Why are lepers to be purified through the tallest of trees and the lowliest of plants? They were stricken because they exalted themselves like the cedar; but when they abase themselves like the hyssop, they will be healed.” According to Midrash, the disease is hubris; gross arrogance often reflected in abuse of power, ill-spoken words, and misplaced assumptions that lead to the downfall of a community. The cedar represents self-exaltation that flies in the face of the High Priests who serve God and thus the welfare of the community-at-large. The hyssop is the counter-balance; it neutralizes the effects of personal arrogance. Together, cedar and hyssop represent a middle-ground where the individual is not too great but not too small, either.

                Today, Hansen’s disease is thankfully not a threat to any modern community; but, just as the rabbis defined it in Midrash, the threat of hubris as gross arrogance reflected in abuse of power, ill-spoken words, and misplaced assumptions, runs rampant. We’ve all experienced it. When leaders speak from up on their high-horses, when small-minded people get on their soap-boxes, and when petty interests overtake larger concerns for personal gain, an organization or a community can be threatened. It’s not enough to look for it only in others as the High Priest used to do. It’s potentially in all of us, so without High Priests, we must examine ourselves closley, lest it overtake us, too.

                A simple test comes from Pirkei Avot, Sayings of the Fathers. In a wise teaching, the rabbis used to say, “In a place where there is no one in charge, strive to be a leader”. But, they also taught, “In a place where there is already a leader, step back and let that person lead.” It’s easier said than done. It’s a test of the human ego, something the High Priest didn’t know anything about, but we do. Leading and following are two sides of the same coin. Leaders must learn when to step back to follow their subordinates who are tasked with specific responsibilities. If they can’t step back, then they risk micro-managing or dishonoring others without whom the totality of the task could not be accomplished. Hubris risks everything. Humility, represented in ancient times by cedar and hyssop, and today by wisdom and maturity (and some would add a good dose of humble pie), goes a long way in achieving mutual goals and best results.

                In all humility, Congregation Beth Israel is a well-run organization that recognizes its leaders and the roles they play, while acknowledging the needs of those whom they serve. It’s this balance of energy and passion that serves the greater good, returns favorable outcomes, and with enormous thanks. It’s the kind of community that should never suffer afflictions; it’s the kind of community where all who enter can feel fortunate and blessed. Now may the blessings we know here, follow us home and into all the places we go.

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