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Balanced Parenting - The Secret of the Staff and the Serpent

The secret balance that’s necessary for a leader to succeed in any type of leadership, whether a king toward his citizens, a father toward his children, or a teacher toward his students

Balanced Parenting - The Secret of the Staff  and the Serpent
The Torah tells us that when God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush and informed him that he was chosen to redeem and lead the Jewish People, He instructed him to perform a miracle that would prove to everyone that he truly was the messenger of God. “God said to Moses, ‘What is this in your hand?’ “Moses said, ‘A staff.’ “God said, ‘Cast it to the ground!’

“He cast it to the ground and it turned into a snake, and Moses fled from it. “Then God said to Moses, ‘Send forth your hand and take hold of its tail.’ “He sent his hand and took hold of it, and it became a staff in his hand” (Exodus 4:2-3). It is no coincidence that God chose the specific miracle of a staff turning into a snake when appointing Moses to emancipate and lead Israel.

In choosing this example, God sought to teach Moses the correct method for every leader to relate to his people, and also to transmit an eternal message to the leaders of future generations, whether of a country, a city, or the members of his family. A man who is coarse, domineering, and aggressive by nature is not worthy of serving as a leader. Likewise, a person who is humble to the extreme, taking others into account to the extent that he nullifies his own way of thinking, is also not worthy of leading.

What is the secret to successful leadership? We see that when God appointed Moses to lead the Jewish People, before He set out to do so, God asked him, “What is this in your hand?” In other words, what style of leadership do you think is the correct one to “take hold of” for the benefit of the people? “Moses said, ‘A staff.’” I will be firm with them, with heavy demands and judgement, like hitting them with a staff. Otherwise, I won’t be able to lead. “God said, ‘Cast it to the ground!’” — i.e., throw away that style of leadership! It will cause the people to rebel against their leader and a child against his parents. “… and it turned into a snake” — That is to say: “Here, see what the result of this method is; the moment the staff is released from your hand it will become a dangerous, biting snake. As long as the punishing stick is in the leader’s hand, those whom he leads will move and act according to his will. But as soon as they are free from the threat of the stick, they will refuse to be led and will bite as they please.”

We learn from here that every leader must know that a heavy hand only seems successful at the beginning, as long as he manages to hold the staff in his hand. But if he does not come to his senses in time, the people will revolt and his harsh method will lead to total abandonment of his lead and to terrible damage that may be irreversible. 

Once Moses understood that this path was not good, “Moses fled from before it” — i.e., he immediately resolved to completely distance himself from this path. But here God taught Moses the secret of balance, saying, “Send forth your hand and take hold of its tail.” “Don’t flee entirely from the firm leadership style. You need to keep a little bit of the stick in your hand, because it is sometimes necessary to act with firmness for the benefit of the one you are leading, in the manner of ‘The left hand should distance (him) while the right hand draws (him) closer.’”

The distancing should be done gently, while the drawing close should be vigorous. And immediately: “… it became a staff in his hand.”

The uncontrolled snake returned to being a staff, in control of the hand that was holding it — and now using it wisely. This is the secret of the sought-after balance that’s necessary for a leader to succeed in any type of leadership, whether a king toward his citizens, a father toward his children, or a teacher toward his students. Only in this way will the wise leader succeed in achieving his desired result.

Adapted from 'The Complete Guide to Successful Jewish Parenting' by Rabbi Zamir Cohen

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