Shavua Tov: Parashat Shemot - How Should Leaders Listen?
Pick up any leadership manual, and you’ll find the same suggestion for new leaders: spend your first several months listening and learning. Taking this advice to heart, I spent the past year meeting with dozens of current students, parents, alumni, alumni parents, teachers, staff, community members, and colleagues from other independent and Jewish schools.
As with any type of listening, the hardest part is remaining quiet. It is so easy to jump in, to interrupt, and to interject—especially in an effort to build rapport and deepen relationships. But there is such a power in hearing the entire arc of the story unfold, without intervening to shape the narrative. Our Western, post-Enlightenment, rationalist brains have been wired to solve problems and to fix challenges. It requires tremendous discipline to let the words settle in without jumping to resolution. If we don’t listen fully, we risk not understanding deeply. At the same time, a leader who does not act decisively may lose his or her constituents in the process.
This dilemma of leadership plays out in our portion this week as we begin the second book of the Torah, Shemot (Exodus). In the famous scene at the burning bush, G-d says to Moshe: “I have heard the cries of the Israelites.” The Hebrew word used is שמעתי, Shamati, coming from the verb לשמוע, L’shmoah, to hear. This is the same verb that we use to start the Sh’ma, the central prayer in our Tefilot.
Thus begins, with this critical act of hearing the cries of the Israelites, one of the most significant moments in Jewish history—G-d’s intervention in freeing the slaves from Egypt. In this case, the cries of the Israelites were so poignant, so painful, that G-d heard and did try to fix and to act. We read the Torah portion and are transported back thousands of years, almost able to hear the cries ourselves.
As Gann students beautifully chant the portion this coming week in our Z’man Kodesh, the words of Shemot will resonate in a new way. How do we teach our students to listen deeply, and to balance listening with action?
Dr. Dalia Hochman
Head of School