From the TAC President’s Desk: A Pre-Rosh Hashanah Message
In an essay on last week’s parsha, Ki Tavo, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks quotes the prominent psychologist Howard Gardner, who argues that “what makes a leader is the ability to tell a particular kind of story — one that explains ourselves to ourselves and gives power and resonance to a collective vision.” Theadore Hertzl told a story of a state for the Jewish people. Dr. Bernard Revel envisioned an institution in which students could combine modernity with the spirit of Torah.
The education courses I have taken at Stern College have taught me the importance of story sharing as a means for strengthening the creativity muscle in our brains. Storytelling makes the world a better place by giving the author the power to envision a world better than what they tangibly see before them. Stories allow us to ask the “what if” questions: what if the world looked different? What will it take to become that? Who will I need to help me get there?
Moshe, in one of the last mitzvot in the book of Devarim, commands Bnei Yisrael to bring bikkurim, their first ripened fruits, to the Temple. When bringing the gifts, there is a basic outline of Jewish history that must be said — it begins with Avraham, continues with slavery in Egypt, and ultimately ends with redemption through God’s outstretched hand.
“The Jews were commanded to become a nation of storytellers.” says Rabbi Sacks. We are a people of stories not by choice, but by obligation. Our religious values and practices span a wide spectrum, yet we are commanded to recite the same baseline story.
Rosh Hashanah is a time of stories. The month of Elul is a period of introspection to examine all of the narratives that make up who we are as individuals. The message I want to share with you is this: Be respectful of each other’s narratives. Be a listener and a storyteller. Remember that coexistence of our narratives on campus is what makes up Yeshiva University’s story and that one narrative is not more or less important than the next. Stories, words and ideas are the most powerful weapon we have to change the society around us. While living amidst a time of heated debate over constitutional linguistics, newspaper articles and dialogue, it is too easy to forget that we share a story as Yeshiva University students, even if our individual narratives sound different.
Moshe’s commandment to have Bnei Yisrael share their story was not just powerful because individuals were taking ownership over their own history, but because the same words were said by every member of the Jewish people, creating a feeling of collective responsibility. As Yeshiva University students, we each have our own narrative, but share in the collective responsibility of attending a Jewish university and standing up for its Jewish values.
As I sit in shul Monday morning, I will be thinking about storytelling as a form of leadership. Howard Gardner, Theadore Herzl, Rabbi Sacks and many more remind me that leadership is not just about a shared future, but about empowering individual members of a community to write their own narrative. Leaders aren’t just storytellers — they empower other stories to be heard. My hope for our community is that we can use the remainder of Elul and Tishrei to be listeners of all narratives, as we continue to develop our own stories within the collective responsibility of being Yeshiva University students.
Be a story listener. Be a storyteller. We are the authors of our universe.
Photo Caption: Rosh Hashanah is a time of stories
Photo Credit: Pixabay