Posts Tagged With: compassion

An Attitude of Gratitude

“The people are bringing too much for the work that the Lord has commanded us to perform!”

Exodus. 36.5 (Parashat Vayakhel-Pekude)

Have your ever been to a fundraising event where the person standing on the dais says, “OK. We’ve raised enough money tonight. You can all go home now!” Personally, I have never experienced this moment – and I never expect to do so. Furthermore, there is not one professional development specialist in North America who would ever confess to having raised enough money for his or her non-profit; there is never enough.

And there is a good reason for this – and it is not greed. While Moses’ chief designer Bezalel may have had a surplus of riches for the Tabernacle (and we can understand ordering twice as much tile as we need for a flooring project, for example), the major goal of fundraising is not just to reach a monetary target, it is to develop a spirit of giving. Any development specialist will prefer a smaller gift, given annually, than a large gift, given once. A regular, annual gift allows for the possibility of greater attachment to the organization and the possibility of larger gifts in the future. One big gift, no matter how generous, risks the chance of the donor just walking away without any future benefit. So, for example, I would rather receive a $100,000 gift spread out over 10 years than as a one-time donation. This gives me the chance to involve the donor in the activities of my organization and to increase the gift over time, perhaps even doubling it or extending the life of the donation for another 10 years to a $200,000 gift.

But an even more fundamental question must be asked: Why did the Israelites give so generously? It seems to me that Moses was a master fundraiser. He developed an “attitude of gratitude” among the people (not my phrase). People donate because they want to give; if not, it’s a tax or an expense. I have to pay the IRS and buy groceries; I don’t have to give money to,say, the Southern Poverty Law Center to fight bigotry in America (a worthy cause). But I met the founder of the SPLC years ago, believe in their cause and am grateful that they do the work that they do. So I donate to their organization. I do not believe in white power organizations, for example, so they don’t get my money!

It is important to remember that we can be leaders in non-profit and religious organizations just as we can be leaders in our businesses and families. But to do so, we have to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in those whom we purport to lead. It is much harder to do so because these organizations are voluntary; people choose to join us – and there is nothing that we can do to keep them from leaving us. And, just as important, we do not give them money to let us lead them; if anything, we take their money and hope that they follow us. And if they don’t like the direction of our group, they will either vote us out or just leave; we are truly their servants.

So when we lead non-profit and religious organizations, let us remember that we are truly the servants of those whom we lead. And when we endeavor to develop an attitude of gratitude among them, we will reach the point when the giving will overwhelm the need – but we will of course always find a greater need in order to cultivate greater gratitude – until the day when our cause will, with God’s grace, become irrelevant.

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Esau said to Jacob, “Serve me some of that red stuff because I am so hungry…”

— Genesis 25.30 (Parashat Toldot)

I always try to make red lentil soup for Shabbat Toldot in honor of this story. In order to satiate his hunger, Esau sold his birthright, the privileges of the first-born son, to his twin brother, Jacob for a bowl of stew.

Or perhaps we can read this another way: when Esau came in from the fields, he was so hungry, he was at a disadvantage vis a vis his twin brother. Instead of sharing his lentil stew with his brother as an act of love (most siblings would do this), Jacob connived and extorted Esau’s birthright.

Either way you look at it, the Torah is disgusted with Esau’s behavior. Later, in brutally brusque fashion, the Torah states that Esau “ate, drank, arose and left.” No blessings over the food, no gratitude, nothing. We are left with the feeling that Esau ate and behaved like an animal.

I have been stewing over this story for years (pardon the pun). Like many stories in the Bible – and especially in Genesis – we can look at this exchange as a lesson in sibling rivalry, of the dangers inherent in child rearing when parents choose favorites (the Torah says as much) or the importance of inheritance – or even just good manners – in the Biblical world. But I have a different take, especially when it comes to leadership: Jacob would have been a horrible boss!

Imagine a scenario where you are working for Jacob. Tragedy strikes and you need either some time off to attend to family matters or even a small loan to pay for an unexpected expense. You have been a good and valued employee for years, always loyal and more than willing to put up with Jacob’s excesses because you know that, in time, Jacob will reward you.

So you go to Jacob and ask for some emergency time off – and Jacob says, “No, you cannot have any time off unless you first clean up the break room and reorganize the computerized filing system. Only after you do these things can you leave.” Knowing that you don’t have a choice, you go and find a mop.

Now this is not the way to inspire loyalty. Had Jacob told you, “I’m sorry that you are in trouble. Take as much time as you need. If you need some extra money, just ask; we’ll work out an easy system to repay the loan. Believe me, I value you and want to help in any way I can.” This answer would inspire life-long loyalty; you would gladly clean the break room for this kind of leader!

Instead of embracing his twin brother, Jacob made him grovel and then extorted Esau’s most prized possession, his birthright. This is not the way of the leader. In time, it becomes the reason why Jacob has to flee Isaac’s bedside, when another ruse goes awry.

To think of Jacob as a leader of the Jewish people has always bothered me because Jacob is just not a very trustworthy or even likable person. As a professor of mine once said, Jacob is certainly not someone you would bring home to your mother; he might just steal the silverware!

So while I hold neither Jacob or Esau in high regard, there is a lesson here: When a co-worker is in distress, it is our job as leaders  to comfort him or her and then assist that person in such a time of need. This mitzvah redounds upon us, making us better people, holier people, as we do the right thing for those whose fates lie in our hands.

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What does the Bible say about second chances?  As servant-leaders, it is incumbent upon us to offer those with whom we work a second chance when circumstances force our co-workers to divert from their responsibilities.  This passage from the Book of Numbers explains why:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: When any of you or your children who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a Passover sacrifice to the Lord, they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with Matzah and maror (bitter herbs) and they shall not leave any of it over until morning. They shall not break a bone of it. They shall offer it in strict accord with the law of the Passover sacrifice. But if a man who is clean or not on a journey refrains from offering the Passover sacrifice, that person shall be cut off from his kin, for he did not present the Lord’s offering at its set time; that man shall bear his guilt. And when a stranger who resides with you would offer a Passover sacrifice to the Lord, he must offer it in accordance with the rules and rites of the Passover sacrifice. There shall be one law for you, whether stranger or citizen of the country.

–Numbers 9.9-14 (Parashat Beha’alotecha)

This curious law touches on two topics that many of us do not think about very much today: ritual purity and Temple sacrifices. Now in the more traditional Jewish communities, many women and even some men will ritually bathe as a matter of course even though the link between ritual purity and sacrifices has been severed ever since the destruction of the Second Temple.   The rabbis decreed an end to sacrifices – at least until the rebuilding of the Temple, when the Messiah returns.

So what is a person of the Torah to do when he has touched a dead body just before Passover and cannot offer the required Passover sacrifice because he has become ritually impure? In order to fulfill this mitzvah (Biblical commandment), the Torah gives him a second chance, a “Second Passover” one month later, when he can offer the requisite sacrifice along with the Matzah and maror. This passage solves the issue of ritual impurity and also the very real issue of extended travel; after all, our ancient ancestors could not just get on a plane and fly back to Jerusalem for Passover!

Originally, I was going to title this blog post “Second Chances.” Indeed, it seems that the Torah is teaching servant-leaders that it is important to give people second chances when they cannot do their tasks at the appointed time. That may be true. But a better title for this posting, I believe, is “Compassion.” What the Torah is really teaching us as leaders is to offer compassion when circumstances force those who work with us to adjust their schedules – even if it causes us some temporary pain. While we would not expect ritual impurity to be a valid excuse for an absence today, we can think of many other reasons that can cause delays in meeting work deadlines or other expectations.

Let’s take a few examples. The most obvious ones are a death in the family or a serious illness. When a loved one dies, we all accept that a person’s professional life is put on hold and that the mourner is expected to be with his or her family for a certain amount of time. Even more to the point, most effective servant-leaders expect that the mourner will take time off of work to be with his or her family and assist that person in redistributing his or her responsibilities and easing that person back into the workflow upon his or her return to work. We do this because all of us go through this experience at some point in our lives and so we all understand the process.  Death is inevitable so we want to be compassionate towards others in this regard.

The same goes for a family illness, such as a long-term battle with cancer or even when a child is home for a week with chicken pox. We have all had these experiences and the best servant-leaders among us understand what it takes to endure these battles and will assist the affected person.

But then there are the less obvious examples. I once had a salesperson working for me who actually asked me if he take an extra few days off around Thanksgiving so he could attend his sister’s wedding! In our work, that was a quiet time but even if we were working at a Thanksgiving sale in a mall department store, he would have had the time off. After all, what is more important: being with your sister on the most important day of her life or anything else?

Family. Faith. Work.

That is the order of priorities that this passage is teaching us. When we as servant-leaders begin to practice compassion with our co-workers, we will not only have a better work force, we will also have a work force that is better aligned with our values, our faith traditions and the principles of servant-leadership.

Rabbi Jordan Parr is a noted author and educator.  He is available for lectures, keynotes and workshops at

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