Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
“Why didn’t you listen to me,” I heard a mother tell her daughter on their way out of the mall. I was walking by them during this one way argument they were having. “You have to think for yourself,” she added. “Listen to me” and “Think for yourself” spoken practically in the same breath. Its one of those mind-pretzel double-binds especially common to parents, but true in every aspect of our lives. One should listen to authority, the law, a boss, God – except one should also think for herself as well. What to do when the two conflict? Well, that’s life, and the plot to most every sit-com I watched in the 80’s – “Mom always said, don’t play ball in the house.”
A similar, whom-to-listen-to situation occurred in game 4 of the NBA Eastern Semi-finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The game was tied and there was 1.5 seconds on the clock. Cleveland inbound the ball under their own basket to their best player, maybe the best player in the History of the basketball, Lebron James. Lebron caught the ball, stepped back, shot the ball, the buzzer rang, and just like that the Cavaliers won the game. It was exciting basketball, but it turns out, what happened in the time out just prior is what is making news. Did Lebron James disrespect his coach, David Blatt, by turning down the play being drawn up? This is Lebron’s statement that is getting attention:
“To be honest, the play that was drawn up, I scratched it,” James said. “I just told coach, ‘Just give me the ball. We either going to go into overtime or I’ma win it for us.’ It was that simple.
“I was supposed to take the ball out,” James continued. “I told coach, ‘There’s no way I’m taking the ball out unless I can shoot it over the backboard and go in.’ So I told him to have somebody else take the ball out, give me the ball and everybody get out the way.”
As a head coach, your team has to know that you are the leader. On the other hand, players have have to think for themselves. Both are true at the same time. “Listen to me” and “Think for yourself.” This might be even more true if you are talking basketball with Lebron James.
When asked about Lebron’s comments, coach David Blatt had this to say:
“We thought about a couple of different things and then honestly it just came down to what LeBron felt was the best option based on his feeling of how he was being guarded and the position of the floor where the ball was, and we went with that. And he made a great shot.”
“He didn’t veto the play. He just felt strongly about what a better situation would be, and as it turned out that was the right thing. It could have been the right thing the other way too. I said last night, and I’ll say it again, generally the guy who wants the check gets it. He really felt confident and sure of what that situation would bring about.”
There is a form of leadership based on power and coercion that has long been the measure of authority. “Do what I say.” However, there is another form of authority that guides you to a direction, an opinion, and then invites your feedback. It’s the type of authority that your best teachers used. They taught you something and brought you into the conversation – they gave you a voice at the table.
In the Book of Numbers, two of the Elders of Israel, Eldad and Medad, remained in the camp while the others went up the mountain with Moses. Joshua, concerned for the honor and position of Moses ran to him and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them.” But Moses was not concerned. He replied to Joshua, “ I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Num. 11: 26-29).
There is no indication in the text that Moses’ authority was diminished in the eyes of the elders nor in the eyes of the people. In other words, it was possible to both listen to Moses and to think for themselves.