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Shemot: Who Are Our Heroes?

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Two Sermons

1. WHO ARE OUR HEROES AND ROLE MODELS? LESSONS FROM MOSES, THE PARAGON OF EXCELLENCE.

This week, TIME magazine unveiled its “Person of the Year” for 2010, and it is a young Jewish man, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. At age 26, he is worth nearly $7 billion, and as such he personifies the height of achievement in the materialistic world, the height excellence in the age of the Internet.

Does Mark Zuckerberg stand as a model of what it is to be the best you can be? Pondering this provokes the question: What does define the best in a person? Who would you designate as the true “person of the year” – the ultimate role model for this generation? Who would you want your children look up to?

If being the best you can be means being extremely wealthy, if it means knowing how to exploit the mixture of narcissism and voyeurism underlying the fast growth of social media, then the answer is yes. But if the criteria include fighting for justice in a cruel world, taking responsibility when no one else will, caring about others, being humble but being courageous at the same time, well then, we have other models to emulate.

This week we read in the Torah about the birth and rise of the greatest man in history – the only person who spoke to God “face to face as one speaks with a friend.” This man was born in the worst of times, under terrible oppression, and he became, against his will, the paragon of excellence, the ultimate symbol of faith and dedication.

Why are we told about the intimate details of this man’s life? Because, as his descendants, we each have a part of him within ourselves, and by studying his life we can learn to be the best we can be.

This sermon teaches how the life of Moses can serve as a model for our lives today … how we can discover the secrets of our own soul and find ways to release them … how we can reach our highest potential.

2. LEADERSHIP VACUUM: DO WE CARE?

When we see an injustice, do we consider it our responsibility to act, or do we look to our leaders, elected officials or experts to right the wrong? And if that is the course we take, who exactly are these leaders? Where are they to be found?

In these turbulent times with all our current upheavals and uncertain future, one thing that glaringly stands out is the lack of serious leadership. We may have excellent administrators, troubleshooters, crisis managers and commentators. But seriously missing are leaders that offer us vision, clarity, courage, strength and direction. Not just the ability to put out fires, but to ensure that the fires don’t start in the first place. In short, leadership that offers a confident sense of destination and set of objectives to guide our every step in achieving those goals.

Where are we headed and where do we want to head? If anything positive can come out of these uncertain times it is the clarity that we have been taking for granted our gifts and prosperity, without a sense of direction and long-term vision. Now we have the opportunity to change that. But in order to do so, we need leaders.

As long as true leaders are absent, into the breach can step anyone who has a mind to. Witness the recent havoc unleashed by the Wikileakers. Whether you agree with the need for secrecy or not, our accelerating technology has clearly exposed the vulnerabilities – and amplified the consequences – of an open society lacking strong and responsible moral leadership and focus. Today, super-motivated individuals can take advantage of the latest technology and the viral spread of information via the Internet to hobble governments and banks, successfully undermining their ability to have confidential communications that are vital to the functioning of any society. In short, it is extremely easy today to spread anarchy via the world-wide web, as Thomas Friedman put it in the New York Times.

This sermon – using the lessons contained in the current Torah reading – dissects the anatomy of true leadership, identifying action, vision, courage, compassion and humility as essential leadership traits. And it proposes how we can apply these lessons to our present times, how we can discover these traits within our leaders and most of all within ourselves.

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