It’s Wednesday: August 21, 2013

Two weeks from tonight it’s Rosh Hashanah. As has been the custom of late, I share with you in the weeks leading up to the big day(s) some of the material that I come across in my preparations that doesn’t make it to the big time but is important or provocative enough that I want to share it with you.  Last week’s discussion of working vacations and summer camp evoked many great responses, but with several funerals and so much else going on, I haven’t even had a chance to acknowledge the contributions let alone organize them into a coherent column.

A colleague shared this story, called “The Seed,” about how we should live our lives, which is kind of what the High Holidays are about. Here it is, in abridged form; even so the column will be longer than the usual for which I apologize in advance.

A successful businessman was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business.  Instead of choosing one of his Directors or his children, he decided to do something different. He called all the young executives in his company together.  He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you. I am going to give each one of you a seed today – one very special seed.  I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you.  I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO.”

One man, named Jim, was among those who were there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and he planted the seed.  Everyday, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow.  Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. More weeks went by, still nothing. Others were talking about their plants, but Jim didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Jim didn’t say anything to his colleagues, however… He just kept watering and fertilizing the soil – he so wanted the seed to grow.

The year finally went by and all the young executives of the company brought their plants to the CEO for inspection.  Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot.   But she asked him to be honest about what happened.  Jim felt sick to his stomach. It was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right.  He took his empty pot to the boardroom. When Jim arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives.  They were beautiful – in all shapes and sizes.   Jim put his empty pot on the floor and many of his colleagues laughed, a few felt sorry for him! When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives.

Jim just tried to hide in the back.  “My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you have grown,” said the CEO. “Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!”  All of a sudden, the CEO spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He called him to the front.  Jim was terrified. He thought, “The CEO knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me fired!”   When Jim got to the front, the CEO asked him what had happened to his seed. Jim told him the story.  The CEO asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at Jim, and then announced to the young executives, “Behold your next Chief Executive Officer! His name is Jim!”  Jim couldn’t believe it. “Jim couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new CEO?” the others said.

Then the CEO said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead – it was not possible for them to grow.  All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you.  Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new Chief Executive Officer!”  End of story.

The rabbi who shared this went on to these nice, high holiday type, conclusions:  If you plant honesty, you will reap trust. If you plant goodness, you will reap friends. If you plant perseverance, you will reap contentment. And so forth. I really liked the story and the conclusions he made about it.  Until I began to think on it more.  Were the other execs really unfit for leadership? Nobody loves the truth more than I, but was what they did really dishonest? What would I have done in this situation? Sometimes life gives us lemons. Is it wrong to try to make lemonade out of them by adding some sugar and ice and other ingredients? Isn’t resourcefulness a virtue?  Is following the instructions always the best course of action, even if it leads us on a path to nowhere? In High Holiday Torah terms, when God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac and he goes ahead and is ready to do it, did he pass the test or did he fail it?  I am not sure what to think about Abraham, or the CEO test.

Ponder this. Talk to your friends. Write what you think. Better, write to each other. I can’t promise a response anytime soon. It’s the High Holiday season.