Be Like My
In my small slice of the world, there is a now an eternal irony on January 6th. For the better part of my life, January 6th was a joyous day when we celebrate my father’s birthday. After the events at the Capital two years ago, the day has become a bit of a mixed bag. Insurrection and an attack on the seat of our government has been known to have that affect.
As I reflected on those events this January 6th, I was further struck by the inept and woefully dramatic selection of the Speaker of the House. The man that was elevated to that position had the chance on that day and since to explicitly denounce those events. He has had many opportunities to distance himself from his complicity in the lead up to that day. He had a chance to support a commission that vowed to make sure such a day shouldn’t happen again. But, as we know, he didn’t.
It got me thinking about what it takes to be a courageous leader. So no more talk about January 6th as that bitter day in our country. And more talk about my dad, Myron Yolkut because January 6th shall remain a special day in my life.
Many of you know him from over the years. We call my dad’s special form of tale weaving Maysharone (a nickname of his) Legends. In addition to his sometimes hyperbolic storytelling, my father is a man of great wisdom and principles, which he’s tried to pass along over the years:
Don’t work in the Jewish community…woops!
Never get gas when the tanker is filling up the pumps at the station.
Don’t be afraid to get a manicure.
Always listen to children.
Use your ears more than your mouth
There are really so many more that I could list but certainly near the top of his list of laudatory traits is his sense of fighting for those that need it. He always instilled in us to be kind in spirit and giving to those that worked in the service positions in our synagogues, restaurants, hotels, etc. He’s a man that stood up for his religious and ethical principles despite it meaning losing a spiritual home and a source of income. Our holidays, especially Purim when our best memories would be driving around delivering food to those in need, were built around not just our own creature comforts but making sure that other Jews could celebrate too.
The ability to look around and see what the world needs is not something that everyone is skilled at. My father has it. Maybe he learned that lesson from Moses in this week’s portion.
In the beginning of Chapter 3 of Exodus, there is a famous bush that is aflame. The text then tells us Moses said:
I must turn, to look at this marvelous sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn up?
Then - and only then - does Godself appear and engage Moses. And the language in the next verse is very precise about it:
When the Lord saw that he had turned to look, God called out to him from the bush: “Moses! Moses!” And he answered, “I am here.
The 2nd verse helps us understand the import of the 1st verse. God notices that Moses turns to look at this site. What is this “I must turn” exactly doing there in the 1st place? Couldn’t Moses simply have just exclaimed wildly, “Look, a bush is on fire!?” God’s recognition that Moses turned means something beyond the simple meaning of the text.
The Midrash in Shemot Rabbah(2:2) offers the following theory
Rabbi Yitzchak said: What does it mean that he ‘turned to look’? God saw that he turned and was outraged when he saw the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt. Therefore he was fit to be their leader.
Rabbi Yitzchak reads the text more metaphorically. Moses “turned” from his own life to look back at the place he came from, remembered the pain of his people, and could not bear it. And this was the quality that made Moses into a leader: his empathy and sense of accountability. Certainly Moses had the talent and the training to do the job - but what tipped the scale for God was that he had the heart. Something is wrong and I must act.
This is what leadership is. We earn God’s presence in our lives when we look around, see something aflame, and do something about it. This, in so many ways, embodies my father. This is now the lesson I am trying to teach my own son. Going forward, we’ll certainly mark January 6th with extra passion. But the truth is, we all can merit to be a bit more like Myron every day. The world will be better for it.
Shabbat Shalom, Happy Weekend…oh, and Happy Belated Birthday, Dad. I love ya!