What does it mean to “be like the light”? This is one of the most fundamental ideas and aspirations in Kabbalah. My great teacher and father-in-law, Rav Berg, used to joke and say he was “the most selfish person in the world.” Why? As he put it, “Because I know that the only way I can receive more Light is by sharing more and more with everyone else–and therefore, I spend my life sharing.” And that’s precisely what he did (which is one key reason why he was such a great leader!). He behaved like the Light and influenced thousands, even millions, while basking in the glow he created.
Yet all too often, we cling to that misaligned notion that leadership somehow equates to being in charge. To wield power over others. We may even think leading will score us image-boosting extras, such as respect, mansions, and shiny, pretty things. And sure, in some cases, leadership may inspire honors or even monetary gain, but that’s not the soul or the spirit of leadership AT. ALL. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Authentic leadership isn’t about getting, being recognized, or stepping up on a stage. It IS about service. It’s about connecting. And lifting. And illuminating the best in others.
In other words, true leadership really IS about being more like the light–and the greater Light (as in the Light of the Creator!).
We can understand this more by exploring the qualities of light from a scientific perspective. Aside from traveling at a whopping 186k miles per second, light shows some other fascinating characteristics we can learn from as we set out to lead the way. Here are a few:
1) Light shares generously.
Light neither withholds nor discriminates. It doesn’t stop in the middle of, say, a room and decide NOT to light up that table. While some surfaces or colors may absorb or reflect it more readily, the light shines unabashedly on everything.
Great leadership doesn’t pick and choose where or upon whom to shine. Sometimes we’re asked to lead through challenges. Or to pilot those who try to kick or scream (whether literally, as in parenting, or figuratively). Sometimes, a leader has to throw off the shade and shine on, circumstances aside. Both the Rav and my mother-in-law Karen faced major criticism when they first embarked on their quest to bring kabbalah out to the world. Yet they soldiered on (thankfully), and now we all have access to great wisdom and Light, which will continue to benefit the future!
2) Light has a definitive source, yet it also reflects and refracts.
Light always has a source. To be a leader, we need to get to our own essence–to know ourselves first. That’s why self-interest and personal growth are necessary! We have to turn up our own wattage if we’re to become a beacon for others–in whatever ways, big or small.
And once we do, we gain the ability to affect change in the world. Just as the sun reflects the moon, a true leader helps others shine, too. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote how leadership begins with a willingness to take responsibility. This means standing up for what we believe is right and being willing to act both as an individual and as part of the whole. Look at a pointillistic painting, such as one by Georges Seurat, and notice how all the tiny dots create the gestalt. And each point is integral to that completeness!
When light hits a translucent surface, such as a prism, it can bend, spread out, or break into rainbow colors. Likewise, a great leader knows that we are all learning from one another at every moment. Sometimes, great wisdom can be gained from those being led… or from children, animals, or the natural world. Differing views, like prisms, bring a spectrum of color and texture to our lives and can help us spread that unique light in new ways. We need only remain open to them!
3) Light has more than one identity.
Light is both a wave and a particle. It can be measured by wavelength and luminosity, yet it’s also measured in units of electromagnetic energy, or photons.
Similarly, leaders are both unique individuals and a part of something larger. Transformative leaders are just as comfortable on the front lines as they are in the spotlight. That’s because they deeply understand and recognize the humanity in everyone. They choose to connect with their teams in meaningful ways. For example, Warren Buffet has been known to share the same sandwich and Cherry Coke combo with a class of wide-eyed students as he does with Bill Gates.
A great leader understands that we are all equally valuable constituents of the same Light. At this place, there is no “my Light” or “your Light.” There is only the One–so when you shine, I shine, too!
4) Light is transformative.
Light changes things. It creates heat. It helps grow grasses and flowers and redwood trees through photosynthesis. The light from our sun makes every life on this planet possible.
So, to be more light-like, let’s embrace our capacity for transformation! We can expand ourselves consciously at every moment of every day. How? Oh, the possibilities are everywhere! We can read more. Travel more. Study leaders we admire. Push ourselves in new ways (see my 30 Days of Virgo Challenge for suggestions). The point is to be open to growth, which will, in turn, inspire others to grow as well.
5) Light’s influence knows no limits.
In 2022, NASA’s Hubble Telescope spotted the most distant star found to date. Nicknamed Earendel, its light took approximately 28 BILLION years to reach Earth!
While eons are hard to predict, we can say with certainty that a true leader’s reach doesn’t stop when he or she is gone. So much of our experience is built upon the leadership of others. Be it a person, an object, an organization, or a sweeping social movement, it came from the action of one who stepped up to make it happen–one who likely considered not just today, but also the months, years, and decades to come. Like the candle that lights ten other candles–each of which might light ten more, we never know how far our reach may go.
The bottom line? To be a true leader in any area of your life–be it for one person or ten million–practice connecting with and emulating the Light!
Because who knows? Maybe one day, in some faraway place or time, someone will think or say or act in a way that was touched by your influence.
And at that moment, like a distant star beaming across the Universe, you will be right there with them.