Leadership and Levitation

A friend once invited me to join him and several other guests on a day sail off the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.  After his rhapsodic description of the classic sailboat and his praise of the captain whom I was going to be fortunate enough to meet, I could hardly accept quickly enough.  My enthusiasm ran high as we gently glided out of Cape Town harbor and beyond the sheltering mass of famous Table Mountain.

They only renamed the Cape of Good Hope because its original name, the Cape of Storms, terrified early sailors discouraging them from signing on to crew the ships of the Dutch East Indian Company.  That afternoon it lived up to its original name.  The winds howled, the waves tossed around our seventy-foot masterpiece of teak wood and canvas and we all struggled mightily to reduce the sail and bring the powerful vessel under control.

Strangely enough, the captain who had been resplendent in his smart blazer and cap during the calm first hour while offering drinks and regaling us with his adventures, was nowhere to be seen.  We were all too busy (and frightened) to wonder where he was.  In his absence, we did our best trying to learn one another’s strengths and skills as we exerted our last ounces of energy defeating the wind and water.  Once we were finally through the storm and calmly ghosting back into the harbor our captain reappeared in full regalia and blusteringly explained to our exhausted little group everything we had done wrong.  I whispered to my friend that I had just gained an unforgettable lesson in what leadership was not.

Leadership means being there with your people during the storms and wars of life.

Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the Israelites.  Moses began his career when God appeared to him at the Burning Bush (Exodus chapter 3) and Joshua started his when Moses appointed him in accordance with God’s directive. (Numbers chapter 27) 

A notable difference between the launch of these two careers is that Moses is instructed to remove his shoes at the very start of his conversation with God.

… Remove your sandals from your feet,
for the place on which you stand is holy ground. 
(Exodus 3:5)

Joshua isn’t told to remove his shoes until five chapters into the Book named for him.

… Remove your sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy.  And Joshua did so.
(Joshua 5:15)

Shoes (like pants) haven’t changed their function for thousands of years.  Neckties come and go; hats, scarves and jackets sometimes have nothing to do with keeping warm, but regardless of their appearance or style shoes have always served to keep people’s feet off the ground.

The concept is that God created humans not as another kind of animal and not as an angel, but as something in between.  He created us as creatures exquisitely suspended between earth and heaven, which is to say, between the spiritual and the material.  We are not supposed to be so spiritual that we reject the joys of life and disdain its pleasures.  Neither are we supposed to be so material that physical pleasure is all we seek.

Walking barefoot on the ground suggests being so attached to the earthly that the heavenly and spiritual are way beyond our grasp.  On the other hand, think of levitation.  Whether in Christianity, Hinduism or some Hassidic sects of Judaism, the idea that super-spiritual and saintly personalities could spontaneously hover above the earth was quite popular.  In reality, God says, don’t walk on the ground; you’re not animals.  But don’t levitate above the ground either; you’re not angels.  Instead find your equilibrium between heaven and earth by standing on a layer of leather or rubber which keeps you just above, but not too far above, the earth

Here are two times when shoes are removed:

1.   When God speaks to someone as He did with Moses at the Burning Bush and with Joshua outside the walls of Jericho, the incandescent Divine power can be too overwhelming.  It can sweep the mortal heavenwards leaving him ill-equipped to continue normal life and fulfill his mission.  The antidote is to anchor oneself firmly to earth by removing shoes.

2.   During the first week of mourning for a close family member, the grief and the weakening, but still palpable spiritual connection with the soul of the departed, can easily dislodge the mourner from his normal position of spiritual-material balance.  Again, the antidote is to eschew shoes during that week, allowing the mourner to engage in the process of returning to the normality of life on earth as a living person.

This leaves us with the question of why Moses’ overwhelming encounter with God came right at the beginning of his life work while Joshua doesn’t encounter God’s angel until just before the attack on Jericho.

In order to make sense of this, we should examine Moses’ entreaty to God to appoint his successor.  He specifically wants Israel’s new leader to be someone…

…who shall go out before them and come in before them,
and who shall take them out and bring them back in.
(Numbers 27:17)

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that this verse refers to military leadership. Moses wanted a leader capable of leading the nation through the many wars awaiting them as they conquered the Promised Land.

However, he did not want the future leader to be someone who sent Israel off to war from the comfort of his palace.  He insisted on a leader who would go with his people onto the battlefield and bring them safely home again. 

After being appointed in Numbers 27, Joshua’s first battle is the imminent attack on Jericho.  God now appears to assure him that if he follows instructions, the war will be won.  This precisely parallels God appearing to Moses at the Burning Bush and assuring him that he will successfully lead Israel out of Egypt. 

A real leader’s role is neither ceremonial nor symbolic; it is to be together with his people, helping them overcome and survive the frightening challenges that accompany all levels of achievement.  Each day, among our families and friends and in our business or professional lives, there are wars to be fought and won.  Every meaningful goal to which we aspire requires a hard fight.  It’s almost as if we can actually feel the universe resisting our efforts.  Being right there with those we lead is the task. Helping them vanquish the enemy and bringing them home safely again is what leadership means. 

I later discovered that our captain was far better known for telling tall tales around yacht club bars than for any real sailing prowess.  For really helpful leadership lessons, ignore the showy people in flashy clothing and study Biblical figures like Joshua.


12 thoughts on “Leadership and Levitation”

  1. I thought when God spoke to Mosses He told him to remove his shoes to show reverence for God’s holiness. I thought Joshua had to take his shoes off every time he spoke to God too to respect God’s holiness. Why was God more tolerant to let Joshua keep his shoes on in the beginning of their relationship until 5 chapters into Joshua’s book of the bible?. God is a Holy All Consuming Fire and Holy beyond words. Adam and Eve where the only people allowed to fellowship with God face to face until they sinned against God. Then humans lost that wonderful daily interaction between God and mankind. God was Adam’s and Eve’s friend.

  2. This is so True! A Great leader fights with his People! Moses, Joshua, David, and Jesus! I am a Construction Manager, who oversaw a 400 unit remodel here in Austin, TX. It took 9 months, and my duties were managing with little direct labor. No permits were required. When the Apartment remodels dried up I bought a home to fix up… With many permits required, 14 months later we were about to get the City to sign off on the home. Working on the home I saw first hand how the men who worked for me, were transformed when they saw me down on my knees and sacrificing my health to rebuild this old house. Despite government with feet on our throats, and their hands in our pockets, God set us free from our captors by fighting and conquering the chaos together!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Well said, Wesley,
      Your lessons in leadership will be useful to many readers.

  3. I’ve heard so many times a preacher attempting to explain Moses taken off his sandals. Never have I heard such profound wisdom as explained here. Thanks again for being such a wonderful Rabbi.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Lisa–
      My body congenitally rejects childish (and unfounded) explanations of Scripture that infantilize the listener (or reader) and demean the depth of God’s word. I’d rather an explanation that is true and which puzzles and challenges me to one that arouses ridicule.

  4. My take on your article speaks to me so loud, even after an hour ago of reading

    “We are not supposed to be so spiritual that we reject the joys of life and disdain its pleasures. Neither are we supposed to be so material that physical pleasure is all we seek”

    My questions, if I may humbly ask. Is leadership a skilled that can be learned or one is born with it? Why Moses or Joshua and none other? Did it have to be Moses or Joshua or God’s Will would have prevailed in spite of them anyway through any other person?

  5. Hello. Rabi Lapin, do you know Yori Yanover and Larry Yudelson? They wrote a rebuttal to a book called “How would God vote, why the ten commandments tell you to be a Conservative” by Klinghoffer. I didn’t read the book yet, I borrowed it but still haven’t had the time. I would like to know something about their background. I read the preface and it looks like they don’t believe is something called the “Judeo-Christian” tradition, and they also said about the Talmud not being conservative or not conservative.
    I thought that was interesting to read something that challenges our beliefs.
    Shalom and have a nice day.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Adriana
      I’ve never heard of the two individuals you mention but David Klinghoffer, an Orthodox Jew, was a Torah student of mine and I greatly admire his writing. It sounds to me that those two secular Jews have an axe to grind and in any event, how you describe it, their comments on the J-C Tradition and the Talmud are unadulterated nonsense. Ten days ago in Washington DC I delivered a speech explaining how we can know that Jewish tradition IS conservative. Very conservative.

    2. Rabbi Lapin,

      Thank you for that brief teaching on Leadership.
      I often wonder whether I was a leader as I was coming up as a youth, teen, young adult, now saved and a adult because though I had at times this desire to lead, I did not see skill etc. But, God did choose me for leadership even though I was willing to assist others , sit in the back, until the day he sent a Man of God to my former church and called me out, which I lieterally thought he was speaking to someone else until he said, You, You who is looking around, you are sitting back there and have been in the back but, God is calling you to the front”, he explained what that meant because he was not talking about me just moving my seat in the service to seat up front, it was leadership and spiritual growth. I knew God used a another Man Years Ago who, called me out in a service by my last name, never met him, he was from Ghana, Africa and begin to tell me Prophetic Dreams I had that only I and God knew about. God had this Man of God Anoint Me As A Prophet, Warn Me about the seriousness of the calling etc., I got discouraged because after sharing it with my then Pastors, they ignored me for several months and gave me some advice that was more hindering than anything and ignored me again But, used another Man Of God who my former Pastors did know to remind me and Now that I think about it to Remind them I was chosen by Him to lead an a Prophet.

      Though the treatment of me did not get any better I went on in the Lord in Leadership as God’s Women to where he opened doors still feeling inadequate but, going any way, still assisting others as I could and began to understand leadership is not about feeling it is about doing, making the right choices, being able to lead people to where they need to go where by they are better off for it according to God Standard and flourish, prosper, succeed their.

      May God help me to never stop growing and make the right choices in my own life, family, as I lead others and He get all of the Glory!

      P.S. Your Teaching Clash about the Islam and Judiasm reminded that these who Arabs Muslims and Jews are Brothers from different mothers but, Sons of Abraham- Family Feud Over The Inheritance Their Father Left Behind For Them via Covenant With God.
      Children Fighting and All The Will Abba God is waiting for BOTH SIDES to say, “UNCLE”, WE GIVE UP GOD, WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO DO, WE WILL DO IT!!!


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