By Rabbi Naphtali Hoff
Vayikra 16, the chapter that details avodah of Yom Kippur, is presented as having occurred in the direct aftermath of the deaths of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. We know that the Torah does not always detail information sequentially. The fact that it chose to record these two concepts in sequential fashion indicates that a relationship exists between the two. What was that connection?
To answer this question, Rashi shares a famous parable that underscores the power of using real-life examples to drive behavioral change.
And the Lord spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they drew near before the Lord, and they died. (Vayikra 16:1) What does this teach us [when it specifies “after the death of Aaron’s two sons”]? Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah illustrated [the answer] with a parable of a patient, whom a physician came to visit. [The physician] said to him, “Do not eat cold foods, and do not lie down in a cold, damp place.” Then, another [physician] visited him, and advised him, “Do not eat cold foods or lie down in a cold, damp place, so that you will not die the way so-and-so died.” This one warned that patient more effectively than the former. Therefore, Scripture says, “after the death of Aharon’s two sons.” [Rashi, ibid, quoting Toras Kohanim 16:3]
Nadav and Avhiu died because of a flaw associated with their entrance into the mishkan. The Torah chose this opportunity to reinforce that the mishkan was not meant to be entered by any person at any time, but only by the right person at the right time. Any misstep in this regard could be fatal.
Still, we need to understand why Hashem chose to introduce the topic of Yom Kippur in such negative fashion. Even if it was necessary to deliver such an admonition, couldn’t it have waited until a later part of the discussion, after we better understood and appreciated the actual avodah? Why not first emphasize the positives, such as atonement and purity?
Perhaps the Torah is teaching us a lesson in the importance of image and impact. In order to approach the singular day of Yom Kippur and its tremendous power, it was crucial to first understand its unique holiness. This holiness could best be comprehended by envisioning the consequence of its violation, as evidenced by the deaths of Aharon’s two great sons. With that framework in place, everything that would follow would take on a new dimension of seriousness and sanctity.
To achieve greatness, particularly in the backdrop of pain and suffering, it is necessary to have a vision that connects us with an outcome, positive or negative. Hashem understood that it was not enough for the people to witness great miracles and even salvation. Such inspiration and momentum would only carry them so far, especially as they did little on their own to achieve such outcomes. In order for the people to remain steadfast in their beliefs and commitment, they would need to be given a set of signs, images that drew their attention towards heaven and encouraged them to reconnect and reinvigorate.
Of course, the benefits of imagery and vision are not limited to avoiding wrongdoing and its consequences. Every successful enterprise gains energy and vibrancy from a vision, an articulated picture that details a desired objective. A vision presents possibilities for future growth that helps to focus stakeholders and motivate them towards attainment. Creating that vision is the responsibility of the leader. Particularly in today’s uber-competitive marketplace, it is more critical than ever for leaders to understand their roles as storytellers and dream weavers in order to inspire continued motivation, creativity and growth.
There are four things to keep in mind when communicating a vision. It should be simple, vivid, impactful and repeatable. Simple means that the meaning is plain and uncomplicated. When Rav Moshe Shapiro, zt”l, presented his vision for daf yomi, it was clear, simple and direct. Learn a daf a day. Do so day after day, year after year, until completing the cycle. Then begin again. L’havdil, when President Kennedy presented a vision for the space program, he did not indulge in complex verbiage. He kept things simple. The goal is to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade (1960’s). Though he did not leave to see it, the steps of Neil Armstrong made his dream a reality.
Another crucial component to a compelling vision is that it is vivid. Metaphor, analogy, and example all serve as excellent ways through which to crystalize the objective. The Torah is filled with metaphor, particularly at its conclusion. Who isn’t inspired by the imagery of Devarim 30, which exhorts us that a Torah lifestyle is most attainable? “It is not in heaven… nor is it beyond the sea… rather, [this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.” In recent times, vivid imagery has been used to sway public opinion about war, civil rights, economic imbalance and other significant issues. It has also been used to inspire entrepreneurs and corporate employees to advance agendas and achieve breakthroughs.
Visions should be include big ideas. Big ideas are what get people excited. People want to feel motivated about coming to work and doing their jobs. They want to feel that what they do matters.
Finally, visions should be repeatable. Distill them to but a few words, a catchy slogan or mnemonic. The idea should be able to be spread by anyone to anyone. In this way, they are kept front and center in people’s minds and have the greatest impact.
As we learn from Yom Kippur, it is not enough to know intellectually that something is either correct and worth pursuing or something to be avoided at all costs. We need to envision our goals, spiritual as well as professional, in concrete, actionable terms that engage and inspire. If we are able to do so, not only can we better hope for a favorable judgment, but we can bring those around us to share in our goals and maximize their efforts towards a successful fulfilling year.
Gmar chasima tova.
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and President of Impactful Coaching and Consulting. He can be reached at 212.470.6139 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.