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Issue #121 - 01/13
...have never felt any success in previous efforts to learn a language - now I do!..

Eli Dahan

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When things are “not good”

During our last Webinar, where we spoke about Nehemiah as a social leader, I realized that there's an essential expression in the Hebrew Bible - and actually in our lives - that can make us change our perspective and actions.

When I teach Biblical Hebrew, I always remind both my students online and my pupils in high school that there's a difference between Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew. Some words and expressions may be written and pronounced the same way, but the meaning often isn’t the same. Today we will look at the one expression that never lost its meaning, from Biblical times through to today. That expression is about when things are not going well. We will examine this expression in relation to leadership.

When Jethro saw that Moses was sitting all day long, presiding over all the legal cases of the Israelites, Jethro said:

"Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone"(Exodus 18:17-18)

 "וַיֹּאמֶר חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵלָיולֹא-  טוֹב הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה.     נָבֹל  תִּבֹּל גַּם-אַתָּה גַּם-הָעָם  הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר עִמָּךְכִּי-כָבֵד מִמְּךָ  הַדָּבָר לֹא-תוּכַלעֲשֹׂהוּ  לְבַדֶּךָ."

Jethro understood that in order for Moses to be a real leader, he couldn’t do everything single thing for his people. A leader must guide his people, but he can’t forget about his wife, (which was, by the way, Miriam and Aharon’s biggest criticism of Moses) nor can he judge every single legal case and still have time to listen to the commandments of God. Jethro understood that Moses would simply burn out, like any human being. Moses deeply respected his father in law and was attentive as a leader, so he was happy to make some changes in his leadership. When an outsider came and shared with Moses some different views about his leadership, Moses understood that he needed to take a step back and reassess. For that reason, the changes Moses made in his leadership were successful.

The next time the expression about “not doing good” appears in the Bible was when David spoke with Abner about King Saul, David’s leader and his father in law, as written:

"This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives , all of you must surely die, because you did not guard your lord, the Lord’s anointed. And now, see where the king’s spear is and the jug of water that was at his head.”(1 Samuel 26:16)

לֹא-טוֹב הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ--חַי-יְהוָה כִּי בְנֵי-מָוֶת אַתֶּם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-שְׁמַרְתֶּם עַל-אֲדֹנֵיכֶם עַל-מְשִׁיחַ יְהוָה; וְעַתָּה רְאֵה אֵי-חֲנִית הַמֶּלֶךְ וְאֶת-צַפַּחַת הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מְרַאֲשֹׁתָו"

Here the expression relates to the leader's protection. Since days of old and through to today, leaders have always been protected by guards. Since King Saul wasn't protected at night, David could have easily killed him. The only reason that David didn't do it, despite the fact that his people tried to convince him to do so, is because killing the King would have been another thing that is “not good”, to say the least.

The final time that this beautiful expression appears in the Bible was during the time of Nehemiah, who was appointed to be the governor of the Jewish people in Judah. Nehemiah as a social leader noticed that there was great poverty amongst his people, as we discussed in the last Webinar. He couldn't bear the thought that people needed to sell their children in order to eat. For that reason he said:

Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?  And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury"(Nehemiah 5:9-10)

"וָאֹמַר לֹא-טוֹב הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-אַתֶּם עֹשִׂים:  הֲלוֹא בְּיִרְאַת אֱלֹהֵינוּ תֵּלֵכוּ, מֵחֶרְפַּת הַגּוֹיִם אוֹיְבֵינוּ.  וְגַם-אֲנִי אַחַי וּנְעָרַי נֹשִׁים בָּהֶם כֶּסֶף וְדָגָן; נַעַזְבָה-נָּא אֶת-הַמַּשָּׁא הַזֶּה"

A great thing about being a leader is having the opportunity to enact change, to influence the lives of others, to make important decisions about the destiny of a nation. One must remember, however, is that nobody is perfect - a leader can do wrong, can make mistakes, and can’t necessarily fix and change every situation, but a real leader should at least try to understand what is good and what isn’t. This, for me, is the definition of a great leader. Nehemiah was one of the greatest leaders in the history of the Jewish people, thanks to his understanding that it's time to write off the debts of the nation when your people can’t even afford to eat. Being a good leader means making sacrifices for your people, even if the decision is a difficult one.

Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation





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