The Courage to Lead

On Monday, we celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leading up to this day, students in every grade level were learning about Dr. King’s life and legacy. There are so many lessons to come from him and his teachings. Having studied about segregation and discrimination, teachers asked students about their dreams for how to make this world a better place; they drew parallels between him and Moshe rabbeinu, whom we have been reading about in recent weeks’ Torah portions. “How are Moshe and MLK alike and/or different as leaders?” It is truly fitting that this week’s parsha, Beshelach, coincides with our remembrance as the parallels are many.

In Beshelach, not only do we see how Moshe handles himself when his people are complaining and unsure of their choice to leave Mitzrayim (literally a narrow place) – Egypt; but we also see the courage of new figure, Nachshon. Nachshon is the one who steps, and then wades further and further into the Red Sea, believing that there will be a way for him to leave this narrow place of oppression and move into freedom. His courage and fortitude remind us to have faith and take action when faced with challenging times that seems insurmountable. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. looked at the face of discrimination and injustice and chose to lead. He put his foot in the water and then waded further and further into the conflict to stand up for equality and human dignity. He remained brave and steadfast in his commitment to people, and his belief that one must remain faithful and trust that ultimately people want to be good, and treat one another with kindness and fairness; v’ahavta l’reicha kamocha – love your neighbor as yourself. It is no wonder that great teachers like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walked arm in arm with Dr. King demonstrating the importance of living our values proudly and publicly.

Today, Red Sea moments still exist globally and personally. There are people and causes that need us to stand up and take action. At the same time, we can be our own oppressor. We live busy and pressure-filled lives. We often don’t give ourselves permission to break free. We wear the yoke of stress with unrealistic expectations of oneself, impatience with our loved ones, and anger and frustration over small issues that grow big. How do we handle these moments? Are we like MLK and Nachshon? Can we dip our toes in the water and perhaps be a little less rushed, or pressured, or stressed. Do we have the courage to forgive and start afresh whether it is with ourselves, our family members, or our co-workers? Think of Dr. King and Nachshon; move forward courageously; set an example. And, although we don’t know what awaits on the other side, the reward is knowing that we did everything we could.

As they say in sports, “leave it all on the field.” Maybe the people in the marketing department at Nike are keen readers of Torah? “Just Do It” and “Be Like Mike” (Jordan of the Chicago Bulls).

I say we go with, “Be Like Nachshon,” or “Be Like Martin!” Be courageous and lead.