SJCS Graduation 2024

SJCS Graduation 2024

June 18, 2024 / 12 Sivan 5784 / י"ב בסיון תשפ"ד

Mitzi, Jake, Isaac, Hemi, Ezra, Dylan, and Avi … it’s hard to let you go! But I am glad I have one more opportunity to share some words with you.

I find the Torah reading for this Shabbat - B’ha-alotcha/בהעלותך - really interesting because it gives us looks at Moshe/משה (Moses) in some very private moments. We don’t often get to see great leaders behind the scenes and in their personal spaces. And these particular stories are quite emotional.

First, he gets very upset with B’nei Yisrael/בני ישראל (The Children of Israel) when they demand meat and other goodies instead of manna.  They even insist that they got better food when they were slaves in Egypt.

Wow! So how upset does Moshe get in his private conversation with God? Well … listen to this:

Lo Oo’chal Anochi L’vadi LaSait Et Kol HaAm HaZeh Ki Kaved MiMeni. V’Im Kacha At Oseh Li, Hargeini Nah Hareg Im Matzati Chen B’Einecha, V’Al Ereh B’Ra’ati.

 לא אוכל אנכי לבדי לשאת את כל העם הזה כי כבד ממני. ואם ככה את עשה לי, הרגני נא הרג אם מצאתי חן בעיניך, ואל אראה ברעתי.

I cannot carry this people alone; it’s too much for me. If this is what you plan for me, go ahead and kill me now, if I have found any favor in your eyes, and do not make me see my own wretchedness.


(Apparently, Jews have been complaining about food for thousands of years.)

The next story involves a surprisingly different reaction. His own brother and sister - Miryam/מרים (Miriam) and Aharon/אהרון (Aaron) - say some nasty things about his wife and even start talking about how their little brother is not as special as he seems to think he is. Family drama!

This time only God gets mad. Really mad. He gives Miryam a terrible skin disease immediately. Meanwhile Moshe stays quiet and calm. He even prays to God and asks for healing his sister, even though God punished her for gossiping about him

Right in the middle of the story, the Torah takes a pause to defend Moshe, with a line unlike anything written about anyone else in our sacred books:

V’HaIsh Moshe Anav M’od MiKol HaAdam Asher Al P’nei HaAdamah.

 והאיש משה ענו מאד מכל האדם אשר על פני האדמה.

Moshe was a very humble man, humbler than anyone on the face of the earth.

Calling Moshe “humble” seems like a funny thing to say about a great leader. In ancient times, people typically saw their leaders as larger than life, like Gods. And Moshe was a great leader. He took on the great Egyptian empire and its Pharaoh, he made dramatic miracles happen, and he acted firmly and sometimes in bossy ways.  So what does the Torah mean when it tells us that Moshe was humble? Maybe the two private stories can help us understand.

When Moshe got very angry and begged God to “kill me now,” he was upset about the people’s complaints about the food God provided, not upset for himself. When Miryam and Aharon gossiped about Moshe and his family, they were not focused on God; they were focused on him, and this did not bother him.

Perhaps by “humble,” the Torah meant something like “selfless.” 

Some of you may have read books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. I did when I was in 5th grade. Their author was a man named C. S. Lewis, and aside from writing fantasy books, he also was a great thinker, including about religious ideas, especially in his personal religion of Christianity. He one wrote, “Humility is not about thinking less of yourself; it is about thinking of yourself less.”  

The Torah’s stories of Moshe present us with a model of leadership very different from the common models in the ancient world. We could even call it revolutionary. Moshe was a leader who did not focus on himself. He focused on his purpose or what we can call “mission.” He did not seek power; he sought influence.

One of the greatest Jewish leaders of the last 100 years, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, talked about the difference between power and influence with the language of math.

Imagine you have total power. Whatever you say goes. Then one day you decide to share your power with nine others.  You now have at best one-tenth of the power you had before. Now imagine you have a certain measure of influence. Then you decide to share that influence with nine others whom you make your partners. You now have ten times the influence you had before, because instead of just you there are now ten people delivering the same message.  Power works by division, influence by multiplication.

Dear Class of 2024, consider this final math lesson from SJCS: “power works by division, influence by multiplication.” Whether or not you come to hold great power in your lives or assume roles of authority, you will all always carry with you the ability to lead, because you will all always carry with you the ability to influence others for the good and in that way to multiply that good. 

We are very proud of each and every one of you. And we have high expectations of you as well. Spread your influence for the good and do it with the humility that is not about thinking less of yourselves, but thinking of yourselves less. 


May you meet success in all of your endeavors!

 Tzeitchem L’Shalom U’Voachem L’Shalom/צאתכם לשלום ובואכם לשלום Go in peace! And return in peace as well! 

I started by saying that it is hard to let you go, so I want to close by saying that squirrels are always, always welcome to come back home for a visit.