The Twilight Zone
At the start of the academic year, I wrote about a Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers that talks about ten things that were created during twilight. One of them is the “mouth of the ass”, which appears in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Balak. The ass in question belongs to Bilam, and when Bilam beats her she reprimands him, as it is written (Numbers 22: 27-28):
And Bilam was furious and beat the ass with his stick. Then the Lord opened the ass’s mouth, and she said to Bilam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?”
Just as twilight is neither day nor night, but a kind of threshold between them, so, too, is the kind of place I'd like to work and to create for others who work with me – a liminal borderline, a twilight zone: between academia and the professional field; between vision and reality; between where you came from and where you’re going; a place where the obvious and evident are no longer taken for granted; a creative space in which exceptional, groundbreaking things are created.
Leadership and education are both activities that take place in thresholds: between the familiar and the unfamiliar, between present and future, between what people can do and what's beyond their capacity.
The role of leaders and educators is to bring people to the threshold and help them cross it, and reach a goal that is sometimes difficult even to imagine before one sets off on the journey.
Thresholds are fragile places; that's why there are gatekeepers. Outside forces can easily break through and destroy the safe spaces created inside. And just as easily, those inside can shut themselves off into stifling seclusion, becoming deaf and blind to what's happening outside.
I aspire to create threshold places, where threshold people can thrive: People who are committed but not dogmatic; open, but also determined; courageous, but also modest; leaders who are not dragged along with the herd, but who also don’t cut themselves off from the community.