On May 7, 2016 a test-driver of a driverless Tesla was killed when neither he nor the car’s auto sensing system were able to avert a large white 18-wheel truck and trailer travelling in the opposite direction making a left turn across his lane on the highway. According to police reports, the car drove under the trailer knocking off the roof, then swerved off the road, running through two fences and striking a power pole.
The Business Insider reported on September 12, 2017 that the “National Travel Safety Board (NTSB) said Autopilot played a contributing role in the crash because the system allows drivers to avoid steering or watching the road for long periods. Autopilot was also not designed to be used on the type of road where the crash occurred. ‘Tesla allowed the driver to use the system outside the environment for which it was designed, and the system gave far too much leeway to the driver to divert his attention to something other than driving,’ Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the NTSB said.”
Our world offers endless opportunities to be swept away in “autopilot mode” in our work, relationships, and free time that can lead us far astray from the very goals we’d like to achieve. How can we overcome the comfort of routine and bumper-car reactions to take thoughtful control of our lives and achieve greatness? We all need to serve as leaders at some level, whether in our personal life, family, and/or community. To serve effectively and sensibly, we need to switch the autopilot “off” and follow a carefully guided path we chart.
Parshas Shemos is a treatise on leadership as presented by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (On Chumash, by Rabbi Yitzchok Caplan, ArtScroll Publications, pp. 121- 127). The following points are key attributes described by Rav Wolbe that lay the foundation for successful leadership.
Organize Your Life
Parshas Shemos opens with a brief recap of the ending parshios of Sefer Bereishis and states [Shemos 1:5], “The descendants of Yaakov numbered seventy; and Yosef was in Mitzrayim.” Of course we know Yosef was in Mitzrayim, what is the Torah teaching us here!? Rashi informs us that the pasuk is telling us the greatness of Yosef. The very same Yosef who shepherded his father’s sheep and was sold and became royalty in the decadent Egyptian culture, remained righteous throughout. How did he accomplish this? He embraced and practiced the middah of keeping seder, maintaining an orderly life, independent of the manifold external pressures.
This model of establishing and keeping seder is vitally applicable to us as well. How can we implement a system of seder in our life that can endure future challenging situations? First, we must build an external appearance of seder which in turn promotes internal order. Second, we must answer two questions: 1) What do I want to accomplish in my Avodas HaShem? and 2) What steps should I take now to reach those goals? As we answer these questions, we should build a daily schedule that provides set times for davening, learning and doing mitzvos while allowing ample time for eating, sleeping, and relaxation. The schedule should not be overly ambitious to undermine whatever gains we achieved.
Once the system is up and running, it is critical to follow it. The Alter of Kelm compared establishing seder to the clasp of a pearl necklace. Everyone knows the pearls are more important than the clasp, but without an effective closing mechanism, the pearls will be lost. Similarly, one can be greatly talented and posses good character, but without seder, one will be unproductive.
Build Yiras Shamayim
Shifrah (Yocheved) and Puah (Miriam) were Jewish midwives in Egypt who ignored Pharaoh’s command to kill the Jewish male babies. In fact, they endeavored to do whatever was possible to sustain them. The Torah relates [Shemos1:17], “But the midwives feared G-d and did not do as the king of Egypt spoke.” The Torah informs us [IBID 1:21] that as reward for their Yiras Shemayim they were given “batim – houses.” What are these “houses?”
Rashi teaches that these batim refer to the House of Priesthood – Kehunnah – since Yocheved gave birth to Aharon, and the House of Kingship – Malchus – since King David descended from Miriam. Moreover, Shemos Rabbah 1:16 relates that Moshe Rebeinu and Betzalel were born to Yocheved and Miriam, respectively. Consequently, the Yiras Shemayaim of these women set the foundation for Sefer Shemos. The redemption of the Jewish people and receiving the Torah was through Moshe, and the construction of the Mishkan was under the guidance of Betzalel.
How can we define Yiras Shemayim? It is the ability to overcome the challenges that G-d presents to each person. It is the attribute which builds one’s spiritual stature. The midwives developed the spiritual fortitude to the point that they withstood the threat to their own lives to save Jewish children, and G-d rewarded them in kind. Rather than viewing this reward as a “prize” for their efforts, it is actually the outcome of their efforts. The same is true for us. To the extent we overcome the challenges we encounter, we strengthen our spiritual level, directly growing from our labor.
Maintain Zero Tolerance for Injustice
The Alter of Kelm relates that Parshas Shemos offers three events providing insight into the nature of Moshe Rebeinu. The first instance is when Moshe left the palace at twelve years old (see Ramban), observed a Mitzri beating a Jew, and responded by killing the aggressor. The second incident was the following day when Moshe again left the palace, yet observed two Jews fighting. Moshe said, “Why would you hit a fellow Jew?” The man responded, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you intend to kill me like you killed the Mitzri?”
The third instance was a consequence of the previous incident. Moshe realized that his killing the Mitzri was known and Pharaoh wanted to kill him so he fled to Midian. He arrived at a well where Reuel’s seven daughters were being chased away while attempting to provide water for their sheep. Moshe defended Reuel’s daughters and gave water to the sheep.
The Alter of Kelm explains that the common theme in these three situations was Moshe Rebeinu’s zero tolerance for injustice. Whether he was in Egypt or Midian, he could not tolerate misconduct. The closer a person is to kedushah, the more sensitive he is to injustice. Consequently, Moshe responded in each of these events.
The Midrash [Shemos Rabba 3:16] relates that it was the same intolerance of wrongdoing that motivated Moshe to initially refuse accepting the positon of leading Klal Yisroel. Why? Because Moshe felt that his older brother, Aharon, was suitable for the position. Consequently, Moshe was consistent in his response to perceived injustice, whether among others, or even by himself! Rav Wolbe writes, “It is easy to criticize others, but not as easy to turn our critical eye inward.”
Nosei b’ol Chaveiro
The Mishnah [Sanhedrin 6:5] teaches that when a person suffers from a headache or pain in his arm, G-d responds by saying, “My head is heavy, My arm is heavy.” This reflects that G-d wants to feel the burden of His Creations and to be nosei b’ol chaveiro. The mitzvah of v’halachta b’drachav, emulating the attributes of Hashem, includes nosei b’ol chaveiro, yet it is the most challenging attribute to master. The very first incident we mentioned above about Moshe leaving the palace [Shemos 2:11] reflects his concern for his enslaved brethren. He saw their duress and was distressed by them as Rashi writes [IBID], “Moshe looked closely into their plight and was pained by their situation.” He did not remove himself from the circumstances; rather he felt their pain as if it were his own!
Rav Wolbe concludes, “One can and should be nosei b’ol with every Jew in need. Whether rich or poor, healthy or ill, when a person is suffering he needs someone with whom he can share his burden. Let us emulate our Creator and truly empathize with our brethren, thereby bringing ourselves and the entire world closer to perfection.”