By Naphtali Hoff
This week’s Torah portion introduces us to the first commandment directed to the Jewish nation in toto, the obligation to sanctify the new moon. The timing of the commandment is curious. Immediately before issuing this command to Moshe and Aharon, God had instructed them to convey stark, frightening details about the tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborn, to Pharaoh.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (commentary to Exodus 12:1) suggests that the juxtaposition between the two is deliberate, as the sequence is designed to present a contrast in human reactions to heavenly signs. For many months, Pharaoh had resisted God’s directives, stubbornly refusing to release his Hebrew slaves despite numerous plagues and untold suffering. Even with his recognition of God’s righteousness (see Exodus 9:27) he could not bring himself to let them go free.
Despite God’s inability to sway Pharaoh with “signs and wonders,” He chose to rely on them heavily with His burgeoning Jewish nation. He began with a monthly sign that would represent the ongoing tension that the Hebrew nation would experience as His special nation and inspire them to persevere in the face of challenge.
With its cyclical nature, the moon epitomizes highs and the lows. It symbolizes our collective successes and struggles as we aim to serve as emissaries of the divine in this world. The new moon represents rejuvenation; following a period of diminishing brightness – to the point of complete darkness – its emerging sliver of light offers fresh hope and optimism. When we sanctify the moon at the onset of each month, we reaffirm our commitment to God’s directives despite the many challenges that lay ahead. (It is for this reason that the Hebrew word for month (chodesh) is closely related to the word for newness (chadash).)
The mitzvos that follow immediately afterwards also direct us to contemplate our special relationship with our Maker. We are instructed to relate the story of backbreaking bondage and exhilarating freedom in vivid color and enthusiastic detail, to impress upon our children the significance of the event. And we are to bind a sign (phylacteries) to our arms and minds to ensure that every thought and action is inspired by this lofty message and deep connectivity.
This unusual sequence teaches us an important lesson. To achieve greatness, particularly in the backdrop of pain and suffering, it is necessary to have a vision that uplifts and inspires. God understood that it was not enough for the people to witness great miracles and even salvation. Such inspiration and momentum would only carry them so far, especially as they did little on their own to achieve such outcomes. In order for the people to remain steadfast in their beliefs and commitment, they would need to be given a set of signs, images that drew their attention towards heaven and encouraged them to reconnect and reinvigorate.
Every successful enterprise gains energy and vibrancy from a vision, an articulated picture that details a desired objective. A vision presents possibilities for future growth that helps to focus stakeholders and motivate them towards attainment.
Leaders have the responsibility to be visionaries for their respective teams and enterprises. Particularly in today’s uber-competitive marketplace, it is more critical than ever for leaders to understand their roles as storytellers and dream weavers in order to inspire continued motivation, creativity and growth.
There are four things to keep in mind when communicating a vision. It should be simple, vivid, impactful and repeatable. Simple means that the meaning is plain and uncomplicated. When Rabbi Moshe Shapiro presented his vision for daf yomi, it was clear, simple and direct. Learn a daf a day. Do so day after day, year after year, until completing the cycle. Then begin again. When President Kennedy presented a vision for the space program, he did not indulge in complex verbiage. He kept things simple. The goal is to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade (1960’s). Though he did not leave to see it, the steps of Neil Armstrong made his dream a reality.
Another crucial component to a compelling vision is that it is vivid. Metaphor, analogy, and example all serve as excellent ways through which to crystalize the objective. The Torah is filled with metaphor, particularly at its conclusion. Who isn’t inspired by the imagery of Deuteronomy 30, which exhorts us that a Torah lifestyle is most attainable? “It is not in heaven… nor is it beyond the sea… rather, [this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.” In recent times, vivid imagery has been used to sway public opinion about war, civil rights, economic imbalance and other significant issues. It has also been used to inspire entrepreneurs and corporate employees to advance agendas and achieve breakthroughs.
Visions should be impactful and include big ideas. Big ideas are what get people excited. People want to feel motivated about coming to work and doing their jobs. They want to feel that what they do matters.
Finally, visions should be repeatable. Distill them to but a few words, a catchy slogan, jingle or mnemonic. The idea should be able to be spread by anyone to anyone. In this way, they are kept front and center in people’s minds and have the greatest impact.