Lead us to the promised land

It seems to be that moviemakers always take significant license with the original source material. People complain about how the Harry Potter movies failed to stay loyal to the books, and thus missed some of the most important elements of the story. The Ten Commandments was an astonishing movie but still rounded some edges in order to get the result that the director wanted. Actually, I heard that the director fired god three times until he finally got the appropriate nuance in the voice.

One beautiful story from Jewish tradition is that even after all of the miracles that the Jews witnessed in ancient times, and even after Moses raising his staff to the heavens to bring on the splitting of the Red Sea, it still required a very physical leap of faith in order to open the waters. The biblical character Nachshon Ben Aminadav had to leap into the waters, that were sufficient to drown him, before the actual miracle occurred.

The significance of this tradition cannot be overstated. Even in the time of miracles, played out in the most evident way so as to squash any question of the validity of the one G-d over all of the pagan divinities, there was still a need for faith to lead the way.

One can apply this story to countless situations in day-to-day life. But what this story also indicates is that human beings have a tendency to follow.  Humans seem to need a leader who keeps the faith [of whatever belief] in order to submit themselves to this belief system. In the biblical case, it took only this one person to jump into the waters in order  to bring along hundreds of thousands of escaping Jews, as they fled the vengeful Egyptians. These hundreds of thousands were apparently paralyzed in fear, even though they saw the Egyptian chariots, spears ready, swords drawn, coming up behind them. But one person was able to demonstrate that with faith, the path is open before you. And it is this one person who brought those hundreds of thousands behind him, to reach the other side.

I have had a theory about the role that a small percentage of people in the world, play. To be honest, it is not a theory that I relatively often tell others, because quite simply, it is quite depressing. Also, I have no way of proving my theory. That is, I had no way of proving it until I remembered, just this morning, a scene from the movie “Capt. America: the Winter soldier”. I think it goes without saying that anything that appears in a Marvel movie is effectively gospel, so that I have all the support I need.

I’m not giving away any spoilers when I say that at one point in the movie, it is stated that eliminating a few millions of people who are leaders, challengers, troublemakers and the ones who ask the hard questions, would convert the remaining billions of people on earth to, effectively, sheep. Without those individuals who challenge the status quo and who constantly strive to make the world a better place, people would be far too easily controlled by evil.

I have witnessed countless cases where large groups of people, and even populations, have acted in a way that is nothing short of pure evil. And the obvious question that so many ask is, how can it be that no one stood up and challenged the events around them. How can it be that when evil is spreading, not one person will voice resistance, even if there is no immediate threat to themselves or those around them. The unfortunate answer is that human beings truly are geared [and probably genetically programmed] to follow. When a person with a leader’s personality pops up, things that were thought to be inescapable, suddenly undergo change. And then in retrospect, one wonders why it took so long for this change to happen.

In the Capt. America movie, the implication was that there are only a few million of such people, such leaders, such changemakers, that exist. It wasn’t clear to me whether the reference was to one or 2 million, or to hundreds of millions of people. But I have long suspected that it is a very small percentage of the world that really makes the difference. The kind of people that make a difference are not necessarily the smartest or the richest or the most influential, at least in the beginning. Some world changers start off in abject poverty, unknown to anyone outside of their small village. But it is these people who magically or divinely spread their message and influence so that by the time of their death, the world over cannot imagine how we ever survived without them.

It’s too easy to bring up the name of Steve Jobs in a situation like this. Based on all of the recollections of his life, Jobs was far from a perfect angel [which makes him all the more human]. Can anyone really imagine what this world would look like without his vision and leadership? Just a few years before the introduction of the iPhone, I was still hearing quite depressing predictions about the very slow growth in the smart phone market. And no one at that time was predicting  the astounding makeover that would occur across the world secondary to the influence of the iPhone, Steve Jobs and Apple.

The developing world literally skipped over the entire desktop portion of the evolution of computing and went straight to cutting-edge wireless, mobile technology. To paraphrase Bill Gates, we are coming ever closer to the messianic time when there will be a supercomputer in every pocket. Those in the westernized world have already much forgotten how much mobile phones have changed our lives. But for the developing world, they are just now experiencing the life-changing effects of this technology. In moves that are part altruistic, and part very smart business, major companies like Facebook and Google will bring wireless Internet to the entire world. When a young boy in an impoverished village somewhere in India can fulfill all of the requirements for an engineering degree, all via smart phone, the transformation of the world will quickly follow.

In my own life, I have far too often heard the words “that’s impossible” or “that can’t be done”. Such words have spurred me on to achieve things that I never thought I would achieve. But nothing of what I have done would have mattered had it not been for the unique, world changing attitudes and ability of Dr. David Applebaum. He was the one with the vision. He was the one who stepped into the waters that everyone else said would drown him. He was the one who saw the desperate need for urgent care facilities in the community, to bolster the range of the family physician and limit the strain on the hospital emergency rooms. Had David not taken that leap of faith, I would never have succeeded in creating the tools that I did. I was very much David’s follower. I was very much NOT the person to first step into the sea. I have therefore witnessed the power of a true leader, that still reigns even years after his passing.

I don’t know what the genetic sequences are for a person of such leadership qualities. I don’t know what kind of decision a person has to make in order to positively influence millions of people around the world. All I can say is that I have witnessed the effects of such people. There is no crime to not being a leader. But when Capt. America asks you to stand by his side in order to fight the evil Hydra, the least that we can do is to recognize his unique leadership role and then stand by him.

The rabbis of old tell us that we should all find a Rabbi of our own, who would guide us in our learning and faith. We all have to make a decision – to lead or be led. And if we are being led, we must be sure that we are being led by the right kind of leader. If all people of the world understood this, we truly would have a paradise on earth.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.