Following the Lead
Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20 )
Being a leader is a privilege, but it's also responsibility. This week's Torah portion lists the leaders of the 12 Jewish tribes who led their people through the desert toward the land of Israel. We can take from this a lesson in leadership and an inspiration to gain the tools we need to lead others and ourselves
In our story, a kid discovers what leadership is really about.
"Please Mrs. Jackson. Let me be the group leader, okay?" Kate begged her gym instructor, waving her hand frantically in the air. Her gym class was about to go on a special 'Outdoors-Adventure' activity, where they'd hike through the woods, go through a special obstacle course and learn some basic outdoors survival techniques.
When the instructor announced she needed to appoint a group leader, Kate jumped at the chance. Not because she enjoyed these kinds of rugged outdoor activities -- Kate's idea of roughing it was setting the air conditioner on 'low'. Nope, she'd volunteered to be the leader because she didn't like these kinds of things and figured that being the leader would be an easy way to get out of it. After all, what does a leader do, but just look on, take it easy, and tell the other people what to do, right?
"Are you sure you want the responsibility of leading, Kate?" the instructor asked. The girl nodded her head, enthusiastically. "Alright, Kate. Since you seem so gung-ho, you can be the group leader," the instructor agreed to Kate's relief. "Now all of you line up to get your 'Adventure Packs.' the woman went on, and started handing out the backpacks. When it was Kate's turn to get hers, the instructor waved her hand and said. "No, as group leader, you don't get one of these."
Great! Kate thought. The privilege of being the leader was paying off already! It would be so much easier not to have to schlep one of those clumsy bags around, the way everyone else did.
But her joy was short-lived when the instructor pointed to a pack twice the size of the others and said, "You get this 'Leader's Pack' instead, with all the extra emergency supplies in it. As the group leader you're responsible to have these things on hand in case anyone needs them."
Kate gulped and with great effort, managed to swing the monstrous thing over her shoulder.
After walking for a while, they got to the obstacle course, a big, intimidating-looking line-up of wooden gym equipment, hanging ropes and rubber tires.
"The point of this obstacle course is to show you that can accomplish something difficult if you have to," Mrs. Jackson said. The kids began to groan. "It's not as bad as it looks", she smiled. "But I'm not going to force any of you to do it."
Kate felt relieved -- at least now, she'd be able to get out of this part, even without being the leader. "But to show you that it is doable, our group leader, Kate, will go through first, to demonstrate."
"Oh, no! Kate gasped. There's no way I can do this! She was about to tell the instructor so, when she realized how bad that would look. She was the leader, after all and had to set an example. If she didn't do it, who would?
Taking a deep breath, Kate put down her pack, and following the instructor's directions, she surprised herself by somehow managing to climb, crawl and swing her way through the difficult obstacle course. The other kids, now encouraged, lined up to follow.
"Wow, Kate, thanks for leading us." her classmate, Jenny said at the end of the trip. "I was really scared of all those things we did today. If you hadn't gone through first, there's no way I would have had the guts to try it."
"Yeah," agreed Danni, "You really led the way!"
Kate felt good. Even though being leader hadn't been the free ticket she'd expected, it had been so much more; a chance to lead others -- and herself -- to be more than they thought they could be.
Q. How did Kate feel about being the leader at first?
A. She felt it would make things easier for her.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. Even though it made things harder instead of easier, she felt like she'd learned a lot and helped people by doing it.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Kate learned that day?
A. She had assumed that being a leader just meant having more privileges than anyone else. But she discovered that leadership was, more than anything, a responsibility.
Q. Why do you think the other kids felt more able to do the obstacle course after Kate led the way?
A. People can feel insecure facing what looks like a difficult challenge and can't imagine how they can possibly succeed. But once someone leads the way shows them it can be done, it boost their confidence to follow.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. If being a leader means more responsibilities and not less—why would anybody want to do it?
A. The responsibilities of leadership—although often demanding—can be very rewarding. They help the person grow by bringing out his potential that would have otherwise remained hidden. Also, there is a deep satisfaction in being able to help guide others in a positive way.
Q. What differentiates a good leader from a bad?
A. A good leader is focused on the people he or she leads and sincerely concerned with their needs and growth. A bad leader is only looking to exploit their position for their own comfort and power.