Go Forward!

The Eternal said, “Go forward from your country, from the place of your birth and from the house of your father to the land which I show you.”

–Genesis 12.1 (Parashat Lech-Lecha)

In this verse, we finally meet Abraham, commonly known as the ancestor of the Jewish people and the founder of the Hebrew faith. For some reason known only to God, the Eternal One commands Abram (Later called Abraham) to leave all that he knows, including his family, and travel with Sarai (later Sarah) and Lot to a land which God will eventually show him. By doing so, God will bless those who bless Abram and curse those who curse him. Such is the reward for this radical departure from the known and for the embrace of an uncertain but possibly glorious future.

So Abraham is indeed a paradigm of leadership. Throughout his life, he exhibits traits that elevate him above those who live around him: a great warrior, also a peacemaker, an honored emissary in Egypt and according to Kierkegaard, the ultimate lonely man of faith. We could spend post after post examining every facet of his life and still glean hundreds of nuggets regarding leadership.

But this week, we will focus on one aspect of Abraham’s genius: God’s call to him. We see in this passage the Hebrew words “Lech-Lecha,” which we commonly translate as “go forth.” Rashi, the great medieval commentator, is immediately struck by the doubling of the verb, “Lech.” Why,he writes, does the Torah repeat itself; should it not just have said, “Lech (Go)” and not “Lech-Lecha?”

Rashi’s answer is significant. He says that “Lech” is God’s command for the benefit of the Holy One. By leaving his homeland and family, Abraham is following God’s command; that alone should have been sufficient. But Rashi states that the reason for the doubling of the verb is to show that by following God’s command, Abraham also benefits. In other words, Abraham does not follow God’s command simply because God said so; Abraham realizes that by following God’s command, Abraham will also benefit – as stated in the next few verses.

For us, the lesson should be clear: when we direct someone to do something, we should emulate God and be sure that our directives will benefit not only us and our organization but also the person carrying out the order. Let us not give out busy work just for the sake of keeping people occupied (filling out forms, making needless phone calls, etc.) but instead, we should assign work in order to help our co-workers grow and improve. The mark of a good leader is to make the work meaningful, not a drudgery. Making this happen is the essence of a good leader.

Rabbi Jordan Parr is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Odessa, TX and an adjunct Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX. The opinions expressed here are his own. To contact Rabbi Parr, please send an email to rabbiparr@gmail.com. 

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