By Barbara Spectre
Founding Director of Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies
“I simply wasn’t aware”. Texts can haunt you. A phrase that continually accompanies me is drawn from a moment of crisis in the life of one of the patriarchs. Genesis relates that Jacob, the favored of his mother, is told that he must run from his home–his twin, Esau, from whom Jacob extracted the birthright, is angered to the point of fratricide.
So Jacob flees into the desert. The text makes certain that we know how isolated and dejected Jacob is: a stone will serve as his pillow; he lies down in no-where. In the midst of his despair Jacob falls asleep and a remarkable image appears to him.
But it is not the famous image of the ladder that has inspires me. It is what Jacob says when he wakes up;
“Surely the divine is in this place, and I wasn’t aware” (Genesis 28:16) “I simply wasn’t aware” – there are two stages of leadership encrypted in those words: the first is that Jacob recognizes that the day before when he was awake he ironically had been asleep to a reality that now is self-evident: the place is holy. The place is the same; his awareness is different. This is a critical moment in the birth of a leader – a moment when someone is able to look beyond the facts, the stones so-to-speak, envision a potential and engage in a dream.
“I simply wasn’t aware”. The second prerequisite for leadership is also embedded in those words. “'אנכי לא ידעתי”. Perhaps the reason Jacob was not aware of the divine was because of that first word: “Anochi”…Could it be that what colored Jacob’s; vision and blinded him to the potential was the “I”, the ego. Perhaps that was the obstacle he had to overcome. Jacob had been too wound up in his own concerns to acknowledge the purposefulness of his journey. Could it be that true leadership means transcending the ego, the phrase then meaning “It was the “I” that made me unaware”
The awareness of the potential that lies in even the most mundane, and reaching beyond the “I”: what a profound formula for a meaningful journey of leadership.