Probably the best leadership experience I ever had came when I was 17 years old. I was involved in the Boy Scouts, and that summer I was in charge of a staff of 30 other teens and adults. Our job was to publish a newspaper every day during a five-day national conference with 6,000 participants.
We had prepared for months, sketching out stories and features. We knew who was in charge of writing and editing, designing and layout, printing and distribution. We worked 12, 13, 14-hour days. It was thrilling.
By the middle of the third day, things were working so well that my number 2 person came to me and said: Josh, things are good. You should leave. We’ve got this.
At first I was nervous. But then I realized he was right: I had absolute trust in everyone there. Everything was smooth, aligned, flowing. I went for a walk, took a nap, and came back two hours later refreshed–and it was all totally fine.
Maybe you’ve experienced a moment like this — it’s all just working. Humming. Flowing. Maybe you’ve witnessed a moment like it on a sports team or in a rock band: A feeling of total attunement, total alignment and trust.
I’ve had other moments like this. They’re an example of what psychologists call a flow state: there’s a sense of effortlessness and ease, a feeling of clarity and purpose, a balance between independence and interconnection. There’s a kind of beautiful, flowing dance of self and others.
To me, this flowing teamwork is an example of Malchut, leadership, which is our seventh and final middah, or character trait, of the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot.
Malchut literally means “kingship” or “sovereignty.” But today, most of us, thank God, live in democracies, and so we are, in a sense, kings or queens or sovereigns.
So all of us exercise leadership or Malchut all the time, whether or not we are in a formal position of power. A great teacher and inspiration of mine, Parker Palmer, puts it far better than I can:
“Everyone who draws breath ‘takes the lead’ many times a day. We lead with actions that range from a smile to a frown; with words that range from blessing to curse; with decisions that range from faithful to fearful…”
What does it take to qualify as a leader, Parker Palmer asks? He answers: “Being human and being here. As long as I am here, doing whatever I am doing, I am leading, for better or for worse. And, if I may say so, so are you.”
Malchut is the bringing together of all the attributes we’ve talked about for the last six weeks: the loving connection of Hesed, the wise boundary-setting of Gevura, the balance of Tiferet, the deep strength of Netzach, the humility and gratitude of Hod, the groundedness of Yesod.
When we hold all of these together and channel them into a flow state, we’re living in Malchut — we’re being the kind of leaders we aspire to be.
Here’s a favorite practice of mine that I think can help us cultivate this quality of Malchut, or balanced and flowing leadership. I learned it from Rabbi Amy Eilberg. It’s drawn from the priestly blessing that’s written in the Torah and that is still recited in synagogues and Jewish homes today. To do it, I’d suggest you find a quiet place and give yourself at least five minutes.
If you can, begin by sitting in a dignified and upright position. Not rigid, but not slouched. Allow your body to arrive. Soften your gaze or close your eyes. Allow your awareness to come to rest on your breath.
Now we’re going to do the blessing practice. There are three lines. Try actually saying them out loud. And you might try bringing your hands together over your heart.
Here’s the first line:
Yivarcheni Adonai V’yishmereini, May the Divine bless me and keep me safe.
Sit with this line for a moment. See if you can sense energy and support–from the chair you’re sitting in, from the firm ground that holds you up, from all the things that are keeping you safe right now. Sit in that sensation for a minute.
Then, the second line:
Yaer Adonai panav elai v’yichuneni, May the Holy One’s countenance shine graciously upon me.
Can you find a sense of radiance that’s emerging — either from outside you or from within? What do you notice? What do you feel? There’s no right answer. Just notice it.
And then the third line:
Yisa Adonai panav elai v’yasem li shalom, May the face of the face of the Creator be turned toward me and grant me peace.
When it’s all coming together — when there’s balance and wholeness, connection and independence, flow — you might feel a deep sense of equanimity. Peacefulness. Shalom. Dwell in that for a moment.
You might try saying them again, and perhaps a third time. There’s no rush. Allow yourself to experience this sensation of blessing. Make a note of what it feels like–there’s no right way to feel, no way it’s supposed to be. Whatever is happening for you is your experience, and it’s just fine.
Then, as we have with other practices, we’re going to turn this practice outward. Bring to mind someone you want to offer this blessing to: a friend, a partner, a parent, a child.
Yivarchechai Adonai V’yishmerechai, May the Divine bless you and keep you safe.
That sensation of safety and support you felt before? Channel that towards the person in your mind. May they be safe. May they be supported. May they be blessed.
Yaer Adonai panav elecha v’yichuneneka, May the Holy One’s countenance shine graciously upon you.
Recall the sensation of radiance you felt a moment ago. Now, direct that radiance toward the person you’re thinking of. Imagine casting warmth and light toward them.
Yisa Adonai panav elekha v’yasem lekha shalom, May the face of the Creator be turned toward you and grant you peace.
Finally, tap into that sensation of wholeness, completion, peace — and extend that out toward this other person. Be a vessel for this Divine blessing.
This blessing practice is, in many ways, the culmination of what we’ve been working on throughout the Omer: bringing the flow of goodness and presence into ourselves and out into the world.
This, to me, is Malchut: channeling the energy of the universe through ourselves and back into our actions, our relationships, our world.
Note how it feels. Again, whatever your experience is–it’s what you’re experiencing and it’s true. There is no right and wrong here, no “how I’m supposed to feel.” Just note how you feel. Try doing the practice a few times this week, and let us know how it goes. Blessings for the journey.