Recently, I had the honor of hearing Noah Fernandez share the following midrash — or commentary — on the Torah portion he read aloud for his bar mitzvah ceremony.
At thirteen years old, Noah got right to the heart of the matter, and in a way with which many of us would struggle. He’s permitted me to share his speech with you here, as we prepare to go back to school, or work, or otherwise take up the mantles of leadership and learning that give our lives meaning. I’ve been talking to leaders throughout the Bay Area as part of our Betting on the Bay series, and am sure this merits inclusion.
Thank you, Noah!
I’d like to now offer a reflection on my parashat (weekly Torah portion, Parashat Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22). In it, Moses gathers all the Jews in front of him to announce that he will need to pick new leaders of the tribes, because he fears he will die soon. So, he stands on a big rock and shares what he is looking for in a leader.
I was interested in taking a deeper look at Moses’ criteria of a good leader, and considering if they are applicable to our world today. The three main things he wanted in a leader were for that individual to be wise, discerning, and experienced. I really wanted to dig into what those words meant.
What does it mean to be wise? A person who is wise does not only have a lot of knowledge in their head but also uses their emotions, morals, and ethics to make good decisions. Those decisions should be of service and benefit to all.
What does it mean to be discerning? Having discernment means you really think things through and reflect carefully in order to have good judgement and make sound choices.
And what does it mean to be experienced? Experience describes someone who has led or leads a group of people and uses that knowledge to good effect. It’s like you’ve seen the movie before and learned from it and you let that learning inform your decisions and actions.
Now, as you look out in the world, I invite you to consider if our current leaders possess these qualities? Are our leaders wise, discerning, and experienced?
I think currently we are very challenged to find wise, discerning, and experienced leaders — but that kind of leadership is more important now than ever. There is so much hate in our society and our political system. We need to fight the major problems that face us — from inequality to hate, from terrorism to climate change.
In these troubled times we need leaders who can unify instead of divide us.
We need to use our collective voices, knowledge, and wisdom to change our world for the better. As I look at the future of this world, a future that I will inhabit, this I what I hope to see:
- A world where we have addressed the grave danger of climate change
- A world with no racism or hatred
- A world with no mass killing or terrorism
- A world where equality is a reality not a dream
- A world where we all are kind, caring, and nice to each other
- A world where peace prevails
Finally — the invitation here — my invitation for us all to be the wise and discerning and experienced leaders the world needs right now.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR KIND ATTENTION.
Noah Fernandez attends middle school in San Francisco, loves hip hop, and studies acting at A.C.T. He’s proud of his Jewish and Filipino heritage.