Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, June 15, 2018 / 2 Tammuz 5778
Summary: Rabbi Kosak explains how Moses is a non-anxious leader, and how a similar approach can transform those challenges that come our way.
Moses the Gentle Master
Have you ever been falsely accused of some action or belief of which you are innocent? Has your reputation been besmirched for someone else’s benefit? Or perhaps you were leading people in an important direction that frightened those who were meant to follow–and so they attacked you to derail your efforts?
In this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Korach, Moses faces all of those challenges when a band of 250 leaders claim he is using his position improperly and that he is placing himself above others when “all the people are holy.”
First, let’s take note of the power of these accusations. We expect our leaders to hew to high morals. That may be a double standard, but it is also the price of leadership. In the present moment, many people don’t trust our politicians or business leaders; our media is full of stories of celebrity failings; and we hardly believe in heroes (though our movies about superheroes show our continued need for them). So the charges leveled against Moses hit home.
Given all the recent reports of those who have taken advantage of their positions, it would be natural enough to imagine that Moses was also guilty. Even were he not, the mere fact of such accusations is often enough to take a person down. We may say that before the court of law we are all innocent until proven guilty. The court of public opinion, however, is rarely so generous.
That is what makes Moshe’s response so instructive. He doesn’t turn defensive, doesn’t go on to the attack mode, or even give in to natural anxiety. He initially accepts Korach’s charge, then presents a simple test to determine whether there is truth to the claims made against him.
Moses, you see, is a deeply self-differentiated leader. As with the best of leadership, he redirects the energy of his attackers against him. The story ends with it quite clear that all the charges leveled against Moses were actually flaws that his accusers had. For Korach, that results in the most unusual death in all of the Bible–the earth opens to swallow him and his band–a highly localized earthquake.
Whether it is among friends, in a family or work setting, on the sports field or the field of politics–a non-anxious and self-possessed presence undermines those who would attack you. More than that, it forces change and maturation upon the entire system. Below is a poem I composed many years ago after studying Aikido for a short time. It depicts how an aikido master understands the same lesson that Moses teaches us this week.
The Aikido Master
The hand moves, rapid as a magician’s
And the foot follows, wanting to connect;
There is harm and hurt implied in the thrust.
He could internalize the attacker’s intent,
And grow nervous
Accepting the proffered pain before it arrives,
But he will not move so slowly.
Long ago he chose not to react,
And in his mind and his heart,
And in his very muscles
He knows the attack is not meant for him.
He knows, and knowing, he becomes wind, spinning about.
The attacker is on the ground
Downed by his own path, by his own force.
Yet he has come to no harm.
Such is the wish of the Aikido Master,
Teaching others by their own actions.
He stands, a calm breeze,
The gentle artist
Shabbat Table Talk
At the beginning of this week’s Oasis Songs, Rabbi Kosak asks:
1.Have you ever been falsely accused of some action or belief of which you are innocent?
2.Has your reputation been besmirched for someone else’s benefit?
3.Or perhaps you were leading people in an important direction that frightened those who were meant to follow–and so they attacked you to derail your efforts?
Describe the situation, and how you responded. Are you happy with the outcome? Would you approach the issue in the same way if it occurred again?
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