20 minutes | Jan 15th 2021

S1E119 - Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg on Exodus 32– “A Story About the Failure of Adaptive Leadership”

Mark’s guest this week is the award-winning author and writer, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. Danya is the author of numerous books, including Surprised By God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion, and has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Time, and Newsweek, among many other publications. She currently serves as Scholar in Residence at the National Council of Jewish Women, and the passage she has chosen to discuss today is Exodus 32, the story of the golden calf.   Danya begins by offering a very animated summary of the passage, its context, and its significance for her, which leads to a look at the different interpretations of Aaron’s actions within the passage. She and Mark then delve into the details of Moses’ involvement, the character of God in the Torah, and Danya’s perspective on the failure of adaptive leadership demonstrated in this text. They also examine the potential reasons for Aaron’s inability to ‘meet the moment’, the difference between leaders who give people what they want as opposed to what they need, and Danya concludes by sharing the lessons she has learned about humankind which relate directly back to the chosen passage.   Episode Highlights:    ·   Danya’s summary of the passage, its context, and its significance for her ·   Interpretations of Aaron’s actions within the passage ·   One of Moses’ greatest moments ·   The character of God in Torah ·   The failure of adaptive leadership in both this passage and today’s world ·   Why Aaron didn’t ‘meet the moment’ ·   Leaders who give people what they want vs. what they need ·   The lessons about humankind that Danya has learned   Quotes:   “This is one of these great moments that gets cited as to how we understand what a prophet is.”   “If You do that, blot me out of Your Torah.”   “This is a picture of God that is constantly learning and growing and changing.”   “I believe the pronoun for God is God, because God is not a ‘dude’.”   “I think the golden calf story is a story about the failure of adaptive leadership.”   “Major change always involves loss, and adaptive leadership is about helping people to bridge that gap.”   “The substitute teacher got kids who had way bigger needs than he expected and he didn’t meet the moment.”   “Your need is legitimate and let’s find a healthy way to help you express it.”   “We need to find a new way of coping to meet this moment.”   “It’s…potentially, you know, an adaptive leadership moment.”   “People need to hear, ‘You’re not bad’.”   “Clean up your mess!”   “Doing the hard work then makes you free.”   “I don’t think you can read ‘The Golden Calf’ without talking about trauma.”   “It’s not somebody’s fault if they don’t have tools.”     Exodus 32 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” And all the people took off the gold rings that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. This he took from them and cast in a mold, and made it into a molten calf. And they exclaimed, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron announced: “Tomorrow shall be a festival of the LORD!” Early next day, the people offered up burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; they sat down to eat and drink, and then rose to dance. The LORD spoke to Moses, “Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted basely. They have been quick to turn aside from the way that I enjoined upon them. They have made themselves a molten calf and bowed low to it and sacrificed to it, saying: ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’” The LORD further said to Moses, “I see that this is a stiffnecked people. Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them, and make of you a great nation.” But Moses implored the LORD his God, saying, “Let not Your anger, O Lord, blaze forth against Your people, whom You delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand. Let not the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that He delivered them, only to kill them off in the mountains and annihilate them from the face of the earth.’ Turn from Your blazing anger, and renounce the plan to punish Your people. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, how You swore to them by Your Self and said to them: I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and I will give to your offspring this whole land of which I spoke, to possess forever.” And the LORD renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon His people. Thereupon Moses turned and went down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact, tablets inscribed on both their surfaces: they were inscribed on the one side and on the other. The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing, incised upon the tablets. When Joshua heard the sound of the people in its boisterousness, he said to Moses, “There is a cry of war in the camp.” But he answered, “It is not the sound of the tune of triumph, Or the sound of the tune of defeat; It is the sound of song that I hear!” As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it; he ground it to powder and strewed it upon the water and so made the Israelites drink it. Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such great sin upon them?” Aaron said, “Let not my lord be enraged. You know that this people is bent on evil. They said to me, ‘Make us a god to lead us; for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.’ So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off!’ They gave it to me and I hurled it into the fire and out came this calf!” Moses saw that the people were out of control—since Aaron had let them get out of control—so that they were a menace to any who might oppose them. Moses stood up in the gate of the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come here!” And all the Levites rallied to him. He said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Each of you put sword on thigh, go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay brother, neighbor, and kin.” The Levites did as Moses had bidden; and some three thousand of the people fell that day. And Moses said, “Dedicate yourselves to the LORD this day—for each of you has been against son and brother—that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.” The next day Moses said to the people, “You have been guilty of a great sin. Yet I will now go up to the LORD; perhaps I may win forgiveness for your sin.” Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people is guilty of a great sin in making for themselves a god of gold. Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good]; but if not, erase me from the record which You have written!” But the LORD said to Moses, “He who has sinned against Me, him only will I erase from My record. Go now, lead the people where I told you. See, My angel shall go before you. But when I make an accounting, I will bring them to account for their sins.” Then the LORD sent a plague upon the people, for what they did with the calf that Aaron made.  https://www.sefaria.org/Exodus.32.1-35?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en     Links:   The Rabbi’s Husband homepage: The Rabbi's Husband   Mark’s Twitter: Mark Gerson - The Rabbi's Husband (@markgerson)   The Rabbi’s Husband Newsletter contact: daniel@therabbishusband.com

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